The ISS to Be Home to NASA’s Cold Atom Lab

ISS, cold atom, lab, bose, einstein, quantum mechanics, quantum, In just a few short years the International Space Station (ISS) is set to become home to the coldest place in the Universe with the arrival of NASA’s Cold Atom Lab (CAL).

Designed to give scientists a better understanding of quantum mechanics, the CAL will be able to bring matter enclosed in its fridge-sized container to within 0.0000000001 degrees of absolute zero. Using a compound silicon glass atomic chip, CAL will give researchers optical and magnetic control of super cooled matter for up to 20-second intervals.

Due to its incredibly low temperature, 100 pico-Kelvin, the entropy of matter nears zero and spooky physical conditions begin to arise.

One such condition that has physicists excited is the Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), a state of matter that appears near absolute zero where the effects of quantum mechanics begin to be observable on a macroscopic level.

While Bose-Einstein condensates have been created here on Earth, they require powerful magnets, and high-energies make them tough to generate. However, aboard the ISS, BECs can be created relatively easily giving astronauts greater opportunity to conduct experiments and make observations on behalf of Earth-bound scientists.

Scheduled for launch in 2016, the Cold Lab will be built with commercial, off the shelf parts to ensure it is delivered on time. If the CAL can perform successfully it will be the first of a number of quantum sensors sent into space to probe the outer limits of high energy physics.  Who knows, maybe one day a number of places both on Earth and off will be able to claim that they’re home to a temperature so low it’s not even replicated in nature.

Image and Video Courtesy of NASA