An international team of scientists has created tiny droplets of the ultra-hot matter that once filled the early universe, forming three distinct shapes and sizes: circles, ellipses and triangles.
The study, published December 10, 2018 in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Physics, focuses on a liquid-like state of matter called a quark gluon plasma. Physicists believe that this matter filled the entire universe during the first few microseconds after the Big Bang when the universe was still too hot for particles to come together to make atoms.
The researchers used a massive collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, to recreate that plasma. In a series of tests, the researchers smashed packets of protons and neutrons in different combinations into much bigger atomic nuclei. They discovered that by carefully controlling conditions, they could generate droplets of quark gluon plasma that expanded to form three different geometric patterns.
Jamie Nagle and a study co-author. He said that the findings provide the strongest evidence to date that such miniscule drops behave like a fluid. That’s something that scientists had previously thought was impossible. Nagle said in a statement:
Our experimental result has brought us much closer to answering the question of what is the smallest amount of early universe matter that can exist.
Scientists first started studying such matter at Brookhaven’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider in 2000. They crashed together the heavy nuclei of gold atoms, generating temperatures of trillions of degrees Celsius. In the resulting boil, quarks and gluons, the subatomic particles that make up all protons and neutrons, broke free from their atomic chains and flowed almost freely.
If you could have a bottle of this liquid on your desk, and you were to tip it over and have it flow around an obstacle, it would do so with almost no friction.
Several years later, a set of experiments at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland, delivered a jolt to theorists: Researchers reported that they seemed to have created a quark gluon plasma not by slamming together two atoms, but by crashing together just two protons.
That was surprising because most scientists assumed that lone protons could not deliver enough energy to make anything that could flow like a fluid.
Imagine that you have two droplets that are expanding into a vacuum. If the two droplets are really close together, then as they’re expanding out, they run into each other and push against each other, and that’s what creates this pattern.
In other words, if you toss two stones into a pond close together, the ripples from those impacts will flow into each other, forming a pattern that resembles an ellipse. The same could be true if you smashed a proton-neutron pair, called a deuteron, into something bigger, the researchers reasoned. Likewise, a proton-proton-neutron trio, also known as a helium-3 atom, might expand out into something akin to a triangle.
And that’s exactly what the experimenters found: collisions of deuterons formed short-lasting ellipses, helium-3 atoms formed triangles, and a single proton exploded in the shape of a circle.
The results, the researchers said, could help theorists better understand how the universe’s original quark gluon plasma cooled over milliseconds, giving birth to the first atoms in existence.
Bottom line: Researchers created tiny droplets of quark gluon plasma – the ultra-hot matter that once filled the early universe, forming 3 distinct shapes and sizes: circles, ellipses and triangles.