Science 3 min read

Physicists Measure Temperature of Quark Matter for the First Time

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We know the basic structure of ordinary matter is composed of nuclei (protons and neutrons) and electrons. We say “ordinary” because matter can exist in many exotic states, not including dark matter since we don’t know what it’s made of anyway!

At extremely high temperature or density, the fundamental atomic structure gets thrown into disarray.

Basically, any known substance would evaporate and turn into gas at a couple of million degrees. Crank up the heat to billions, or trillions, of degrees, you get non-atomic phases of matter or quark matter.

Examples of quark matter, also known as QCD matter, include plasma and the Bose-Einstein Condensate.

Lab Kilonova: Casting Light on Quark Matter

Another form of quark matter is quark-gluon plasma, also called the “perfect liquid.”

According to the Big Bang theory, quark matter, which consists of quarks and gluons, has filled the early universe, right after it was born. That’s around the time when it was still extremely hot and dense.

Neutron stars are so dense that a single atom weighs about the same as an average mountain. Because of their extremely high density, scientists think that neutron stars likely hold quark matter in their core.

When astrophysicists observed for the first time the merger of two neutron stars, thanks to the Virgo and LIGO collaborations, it was a welcome opportunity to study quark matter.

But, it isn’t like scientists observe gravitational waves every day, or that they have direct and unrestricted access to the phenomenon in the first place.

Now, a team of physicists at the HADES collaboration could recreate the conditions necessary for quark matter to reveal itself in the lab.

As reported in Nature Physics, the team successfully reproduced quark matter and measured its temperature for the first time.

“It’s a point in a region where nobody else has touched as far as I know,” said Gene Van Buren, a physicist at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) in New York. “That’s pretty exciting.”

Basically, the team recreated conditions akin to a neutron-star merger, or a mini kilonova event, to study the behavior of quark matter up close and personal. They could do so thanks to the HADES, experiment (High Acceptance DiElectron Spectrometer), based in Germany.

They beamed gold atoms to speeds nearing the speed of light and slammed them into each other. The fleeting collision created a very dense jumble of protons and neutrons, just like the quantum chromodynamics (QCD) theory predicts.

For several decades, physicists knew that the strong nuclear force confines quarks into bigger particles like neutrons and protons in the atom’s nucleus. However, they didn’t understand how quark matter would behave at extreme temperatures and densities.

The HADES experiment, which involves hundreds of international researchers, help close the theoretical loopholes by allowing scientists to play with quark matter in the lab. Using particle accelerators, physicists can create quark matter on-demand and study its behavior to recalibrate their calculations and iron out the QCD theory.

Read More: Two-Qubit Quantum Gate Successfully Built For The First Time

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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