Friday, March 14, 2014

Smashing Gold - 'Particle Soup 101'

A new experiment that smashes gold nuclei at near light speed could mimic the particle soup created an instant after the Big Bang.

The experiment, which will be carried out at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, has just begun pumping liquid helium into 1,740 superconducting magnets to chill them to near absolute zero (minus 273 degrees Celsius, or minus 459 degrees Fahrenheit). At that point, the magnets can run indefinitely without losing any energy.
The team will then steer beams of gold ions — gold atoms stripped of their electrons and positively charged — into each other at nearly the speed of light, creating scorching temperatures of 7.2 trillion degrees Fahrenheit (4 trillion degrees Celsius). That's 250,000 times hotter than the sun's fiery core.

These blazing-hot conditions "melt" the gold atoms' protons and neutrons, creating plasma of their constituent quarks and gluons, the massless glue that holds quarks together, that mimic the primordial soup of particles found just after the Big Bang. By studying the plasma, the team hopes to help explain how the early universe evolved from that state to what it is today