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Registered: 01/30/03
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Early Universe was a Liquid
    #4077129 - 04/20/05 03:14 PM (13 years, 5 days ago)

Quark-gluon blob surprises particle physicists.

The Universe consisted of a perfect liquid in its first moments, according to results from an atom-smashing experiment.

Scientists at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, New York, have spent five years searching for the quark-gluon plasma that is thought to have filled our Universe in the first microseconds of its existence. Most of them are now convinced they have found it. But, strangely, it seems to be a liquid rather than the expected hot gas.

Quarks are the building blocks of protons and neutrons, and gluons carry the strong force that binds them together. It is thought that these particles took some moments to condense into ordinary matter after the intense heat of the Big Bang.

To recreate this soup of unbound particles, the RHIC accelerates charged gold atoms close to the speed of light before smashing them together. Previous experiments have shown that these collisions create something the size of an atomic nucleus that reaches 2 trillion degrees Celsius, about 150,000 times hotter than the centre of the Sun.

"This stuff was last seen in the Universe 13 billion years ago," says Sam Aronson, a director of high energy research at Brookhaven.

Now experiments have revealed that this hot blob is a liquid, which lives for just 10-23 seconds. "This was completely unexpected," says Wit Busza of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the team of researchers who reported their discovery on 18 April at the American Physical Society conference in Tampa, Florida.

Hot water

"The surprising thing is that the interaction between the quarks and gluons is much stronger than people expected," says Dmitri Kharzeev, a theoretical physicist at Brookhaven. The strength of this binding keeps the mixture liquefied despite its incredible temperature. "It's as much a fluid as the water in this glass," Kharzeev says, pointing to his drink.

The researchers worked out the liquid's structure by tracking the particles that spray out as the droplet falls apart and quarks team up to form normal matter. "It's a very complicated thing," says Busza. "But we've been amazed at how simple the results are."

The resulting liquid is almost 'perfect': it has a very low viscosity and is so uniform that it looks the same from any angle.

This may help to explain why the deepest parts of the Universe seem similar wherever astronomers look, says Kharzeev. If the primordial liquid had been as viscous as honey, the Universe could have turned out much more lumpy, he explains. "We can be certain this will change our picture of the early Universe," he says.

The researchers now hope to measure the heat capacity, viscosity and even the speed of sound in the quark liquid. But the RHIC has been hit by cuts in the recent US budget, forcing it to reduce its operating time from 30 to 12 weeks next year. Further investigations will inevitably take years to complete, says Aronson.



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Trapped in aPr?lude

Registered: 02/15/05
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Re: Early Universe was a Liquid [Re: ivi]
    #4077207 - 04/20/05 03:45 PM (13 years, 5 days ago)

That's amazing! I don't think anybody would have predicted the strong force is actually THAT strong! I wonder if they'll be able to predict the temperature at which the liquid turns to a gas or plasma... that would be interesting.

Perhaps turning the liquid to a plasma is the impossible upper limit, like if the gold atoms are both travelling the speed of light... The more I think about this the more fascinating it is.

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tangential derivation
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Re: Early Universe was a Liquid [Re: Boccherini]
    #4078564 - 04/20/05 09:12 PM (13 years, 5 days ago)

You couldn't turn the liquid into a plasma, because it is not "normal" matter. A plasma consists of normal matter which has had its electrons stripped away from the nuclei. This liquid is apparently made from individual quarks and gluons, so there is nothing to create a plasma from.

Once, men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free.
But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.

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Trapped in aPr?lude

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Re: Early Universe was a Liquid [Re: trendal]
    #4078593 - 04/20/05 09:20 PM (13 years, 5 days ago)

You're right; I forgot what I was dealing with. So then: "Perhaps turning the liquid to a gas is the impossible upper limit, like if the gold atoms are both travelling the speed of light..."

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Re: Early Universe was a Liquid [Re: ivi]
    #4078701 - 04/20/05 09:53 PM (13 years, 5 days ago)

Well i think they are referring to a "liquid" in a different sense than how we think. We think of a liquid as being a collection of molecules with a certain type of interaction. I think here they are talking about a "liquid" of sub-atomic particles that would most likely behave in different ways than what we consider a liquid.

The real implication of this is in the forces between particles. A liquid of subatomic particles is not very difficult to concieve. It can be envisioned that a super-hot gas containing sub-atomic particles could "liquify" depending on the force between particles and your definition of liquid. As the article states, this does have implications as to the forces that exist between sub-atomic particles. However, i am cautious because this may just be a manipulation of physical theories which are positivist by nature (ie. simply describe whats going on as opposed to ultimate truth).

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