Space is a chilly place, but scientists aboard the International Space Station are about to make it just a little bit colder — temporarily, at least. The crew is about to power up a small device called the Cold Atom Laboratory to plunge atoms into temperatures close to absolute zero.
As NBC Mach reports, the experiments will focus on the movements of particles at temperatures that are just barely above absolute zero — the theoretical temperature in which all movement stops — in order to observe some of the quirks of quantum mechanics. If you’ve ever even casually looked into research based on quantum mechanics you already know that things are about to get weird.
For an example of just how bizarre things can get in the world of quantum physics you only need to look at the launch of a Chinese satellite from early in 2017. The satellite used a strange quirk known as quantum entanglement to send an “unhackable” message nearly 750 miles to Earth.
Quantum entanglement allows two particles called “twins” to behave in unison even though they are separated by incredibly long distances. Any kind of interaction with one of the particles will result in the other particle reacting in the same manner, almost as though both the particles are actually one, existing in two places at the same time. It’s some seriously mind-boggling stuff, but it’s totally real, and scientists are eager to learn more about it.
By cooling particles to incredibly low temperatures, scientists have a better opportunity to observe the behavior of these kinds of particles. The low-gravity environment of the space station makes it an ideal place for this kind of testing, and will give researchers more time to observe the chilled particle clouds before they break down.
The work will actually be conducted by scientists here on Earth, and the tiny laboratory won’t require any assistance from the crew of the space station. The remote experiments can be performed for nearly seven hours per day, which will give researches plenty of time to try to untangle the mysteries of the universe.