A team of NASA scientists have observed Bose-Einstein condensates, aka the fifth state of matter, in space, aboard the International Space Station, for the first time.
Albert Einstein and Indian mathematician Satyendra Nath Bose predicted Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) existence whose the existence almost a century ago. They are formed when atoms of certain elements are cooled to near absolute zero.
At this point, the atoms become a single entity with quantum properties, wherein each particle also functions as a wave of matter.
But BECs are extremely fragile. The slightest interaction with the external world is enough to warm them past their condensation threshold. This makes them nearly impossible for scientists to study on Earth, where gravity interferes with the magnetic fields required to hold them in place for observation.
On board the International Space Station (ISS) there is a mini-fridge-size facility called the Cold Atom Lab (CAL), capable of chilling atoms in a vacuum down to temperatures one ten billionth of a degree above absolute zero.
The general idea when making a BEC is to inject atoms (in the case of CAL, rubidium and potassium) into an ultra-cold chamber to slow them down. A magnetic trap is then created in the chamber with an electrified coil, which is used along with lasers and other tools to move the atoms into a dense cloud. (Phys.org and Technology Review)
The research has been published in the journal Nature.