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  (Source: Sprouting Sprouts)

A visualization shows the quark gluon plasma "soup" created at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. The soup reaches temperatures that are as hot as the big bang, melting protons and neturons.  (Source: BNL via YouTube)

Vortices were also observed, a part of a phenomena known as "symmetry-breaking" that runs counter to the traditional laws of physics. (Apparently you CAN change the laws of physics!)  (Source: BNL via YouTube)
Conditions have likely not been seen in the last 13.7 billion years

While the Large Hadron Collider's record setting performance in particle collisions is certainly impressive, it's important not to forget about the important contributions that particle physics centers here in the United States are still making.  Fermilab (Batavia, Illinois) was the previous record holder of the highest energy collision and still has a shot at beating the LHC at finding the Higgs boson. 

Another key lab is the Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), home to the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a slightly different type of collider that impacts larger particles.  Despite being grossly underfunded, both the Brookhaven NL and Fermilab had both offered stunning research contributions in recent years.

Now BNL can add one more to the list -- achieving temperatures likely not seen since the Big Bang.  The lab produced temperatures of 4 trillion degrees Celsius, 250,000 times hotter than the Sun's interior, during collisions of gold atoms hurtling at almost the speed of light.  To give another benchmark, the collision produced internal heat approximately 40 times that at the center of an imploding supernova star.

The collisions produced a stunning "soup" of quarks and gluons.  The analyzed data indicates that record high temperature caused the protons and neutrons of the gold atoms to "melt" into the quarks and gluons that compose them, which then formed a plasma, known as quark gluon plasma (QGP).  This appears to be the first time man has been able to make such a quark soup.

Dr. William F. Brinkman, Director of the DOE Office of Science, states that the results are amazing.  He comments, "This research offers significant insight into the fundamental structure of matter and the early universe, highlighting the merits of long-term investment in large-scale, basic research programs at our national laboratories.  I commend the careful approach RHIC scientists have used to gather detailed evidence for their claim of creating a truly remarkable new form of matter."

The researchers measured the temperature of the QGP using color and light-based heat analysis techniques, the advanced derivatives of similar techniques used in industrial applications.  And there were surprises. 

States Steven Vigdor, Brookhaven’s Associate Laboratory Director for Nuclear and Particle Physics, "The temperature inferred from these new measurements at RHIC is considerably higher than the long-established maximum possible temperature attainable without the liberation of quarks and gluons from their normal confinement inside individual protons and neutrons.  However, the quarks and gluons in the matter we see at RHIC behave much more cooperatively than the independent particles initially predicted for QGP."

The biggest challenge in the research, perhaps, was convincing skeptics in the research field that the quark soup was real.  Previously, physicists had predicted that it would have a gas-like form, but results from the BNL, starting in 2005, suggested it was actually a remarkable liquid with no frictional resistance or viscosity. 

The verifications was very challenging; whereas the QGP existed for microseconds after the Big Bang, in the lab it existed for a mere billionth of a trillionth of a second (10^-21 s).  In order to detect what happened in that sliver of time, researchers had to capture the handful of high-energy photons that were thrown off and told exactly how hot the mix got.  The results seem to conclusively indicate that the QGP is indeed a liquid, at least at some temperatures.

Another interesting result was the "symmetry-breaking" behavior observed in the collision bubbles.  In fundamental terms, the phenomena involves the charged particles immersed in the powerful magnetic field within the bubbles moving in directions opposite to what is seen in today's universe.

The results are published in two papers appearing in the journal Physical Review Letters [1] [2].

Following the success, the researchers plan to within a year or two upgrade the RHIC to improve its collision rate and detector capabilities.  Better collisions could reveal other exotic particles like Higgs bosons or their theoretical alternative preons (point particles that some have theorized make up quarks and gluons.

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RE: I hate to be the doubting Thomas but...
By geddarkstorm on 2/16/2010 4:47:25 PM , Rating: 2
Because the heat is lost as photons :P. No convection, no conduction, just radiation. They measured the energy of the photons being radiated away as the "soup" cooled back down.

RE: I hate to be the doubting Thomas but...
By KillerInTheRye on 2/16/2010 4:54:19 PM , Rating: 2
Again, what tool can measure an amount that has never been seen or produced? How do you callibrate it? I can callibrate a scale for accuracy up to 1 pound, it doesn't mean that it is accurate up to 10 tons. I just do not understand these sort of declarations, I'm too simple minded I guess.

RE: I hate to be the doubting Thomas but...
By geddarkstorm on 2/16/2010 5:00:09 PM , Rating: 5
It isn't quite as esoteric as it sounds.

We can measure the energy of one photon by measuring its wavelength. Now, the energy (wavelength) of a photon radiated out from some material is going to relate in proportion to the heat energy content of that material -- since we are dealing with a kinetic collision and not a electromagnetic event. Calibration is as simple as just measuring known wavelengths such as visible light, through some spectral spread to get a sense of consistency.

Think of an electric stove top. As it heats up, to the point it's hot to the touch, its radiating a large amount of infrared photons. Now, as it gets even hotter, into the hundreds of degrees F, it starts to visibly glow. That is, there's so much energy, it's shifted the photon wavelengths to the visible spectrum. You don't want to touch the stove top now! As you get EVEN hotter, the visible colors head to yellow, and eventually you'll pass to UV and beyond. Supernovas are so hot, the give off gamma rays.

So, all they had to do was measure wavelength to get a sense of the heat content of the material. I'm sure that's not all they did either.

Still, these are good questions to ask; gotta learn somehow, and it's good to fact check with logic.

By KillerInTheRye on 2/16/2010 5:16:24 PM , Rating: 2
Thanks. I did not know that. Learn something new I guess.

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