As I scrolled through the various press releases that came my way, I was struck by someone describing research going on at Rice University in Houston and Kyoto University in Japan, where scientists are now making the coldest particles in the universe—too cold we don’t. t even tools to measure it.
But if we did, they would register on the order of a billionth of a degree absolute zero, the theoretical and thought unreachable temperature where all motion stops.
And the reason these ultra-cool particles are created is that extreme temperatures, hot and cold — just as at extreme speeds and extreme sizes change “physics” — you start to see things you couldn’t otherwise see. In doing so, you can “open a portal to the unexplored realm of quantum magnetism.” (It’s those kinds of dramatic phrases that encouraged me to major in physics as an undergraduate.)
With the essay, as was the case with my academic studies, “dramatic and theoretical” is about where my interest ended, but nonetheless, my curiosity exasperated my extremism. I wondered, if this is the coldest particle, which is the hottest?
A quick search has revealed that the most important naturally occurring thing in the universe is a supernova, an event that marks the final stage in a star’s life. It ends dramatically with a massive explosion during which temperatures rise to 100 billion degrees Celsius – 6000 times hotter than the sun.
But even that pales in comparison to the ultra-high temperatures produced by scientists at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland, where they direct high-energy collisions between lead or gold ions. They are generating temperatures of about 5.5 trillion degrees, or 360,000 times the temperature of the Sun, in an effort to better understand what the universe looked like in the first microsecond after the Big Bang!
(You might wonder, if it’s hot, why isn’t the place burning? The answer has to do with the size and mass of subatomic particles. It’s so small that the amount of energy that gets scattered is also small, and even less than what radiates from our energy lines.)
Just as there is a theoretical absolute on the cold side of things, there is also absolute heat as well; It’s called the Planck temperature, and it’s 100 million million million million million degrees.
At that temperature, gravity, electricity, magnetism, and the weak and strong forces melt into one unified field or force – something that Einstein pursued but never could catch up with.
As for other extremes, the loudest sound in the universe comes from the depths of the Perseus galaxy cluster as an amount of energy roughly equal to 100 million stars exploding from a black hole, filling the super-hot and extremely massive ocean. gas cloud. The cloud then disperses as sound waves reverberate through thousands of galaxies.
The actual “sound” of these waves corresponds to a B-flat, 57 octaves below middle C, which means that the frequency is so low and so slow – and the distance between the crests of the waves is so spread out – that it takes roughly 10 million years for a single wave to pass.
The quietest thing, or the quietest place, in theory, is in the perfect void. But since there is no such thing, no place in the universe is completely devoid of cosmic rays or leftover particles from the Big Bang, the closest we can get to nature is intergalactic space.
The quietest place on Earth is Orfield Laboratory in Minnesota. The echo chamber they created there is so silent that the noise inside is actually minus 9.4 decibels. The longest any person has been able to stay in is 45 minutes.
The lab founder said, “The quieter the room, the more things you’ll hear. You’ll hear your heartbeat and hear the gurgling of your lungs and stomach. It becomes the sound.”
… That is why we study extremism to discover ourselves in between.