Friday, August 17, 2012

Sub-atomic 'soup' reaches highest temperature ever

CERN keeps breaking the boundaries of science with their experiments in physics. A while ago, they reported to have found a candidate for the much sought after Higgs boson, a sub-atomic particle that is supposed to complete the standard model of particle physics. Before that, they found another new particle, by pushing the limits of science by creating high-speed collisions of particles. Such collisions create high temperatures, and CERN now reports to have broken the record of the highest man-made temperature ever, creating a 'soup' of subatomic particles that was supposedly also present during the Big Bang.

CERN has several research projects, all making use of heavy equipment in order to push the limits of physics. Atlas and CMS were responsible for finding the candidate Higgs boson, but CERN also has a research team called Alice. The latter is involved with collisions of heavy ions, leading up to energy levels so high it creates a sea of disintegrated atoms, leaving their sub-atomic building blocks floating in some kind of hot dense soup.

After performing calculations to derive the temperature from the observed energy levels measured from the collisions in the Alice experiments, the scientists noted a temperature of around 4 trillion degrees, which is 38 percent higher than the previous man-made temperature record. The hot dense soup they created consisted of gluons and quarks, particles that normally make up atoms, but lose 'touch' with each other due to the high temperatures.

Big Bang
Before our universe started forming dense matter and thereby stars and galaxies, the Big Bang resulted in temperatures as high as the hot dense soup created by CERN. Because of the similarities between the Alice experiments and the hypothesized conditions during the first seconds of our universe, creating such conditions may help us study the Big Bang phenomenon in more detail. We may learn more about the physical behaviour of particles in such conditions and learn how our universe came to be.

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