Washington, U.S.- The International Space Station (ISS) is slated to become the coldest spot in space as NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) begins producing ultra-cold atoms.

Called Bose-Einstein condensates, these atoms are cooled to 10 millionth of one Kelvin above absolute zero as part of microgravity experiments to study quantum mechanics and the fundamental nature of matter.

At its most basic, temperature is a measurement of the movement of molecules in a substance. If the molecules move very slowly, then the substance is solid. If they move more quickly, it’s a liquid. A little more quickly and it’s a gas. Even quicker and the electrons start to strip away, it’s a plasma.

At the other end of the scale, if these molecules stop completely, then they’ve reached the point of absolute zero. The weirdness comes in because it isn’t actually possible to reach absolute zero. No matter how much energy you suck out of a molecule, it will still move slightly, because you’re now in the realm of quantum mechanics where the everyday laws of physics start to break down.

The new Cold Atom Lab has the advantage of being in the microgravity environment of the ISS.

In fact, when CAL is fully operational, it will be the coldest spot in the known universe – one where scientists can observe BECs at their leisure for up to 10 seconds and repeat experiments up to six hours a day.

It’s not only the first device of its kind to be installed in space, but it’s also the coldest and the most compact yet built.

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