Attempts to create Bose-Einstein condensates on Earth have been only partially successful to date. Because everything on Earth is subject to the pull of gravity, atoms and molecules tend to move toward the ground. This means the effects can only be seen for fractions of a second. In space, where the ISS is in perpetual freefall, CAL could preserve these structures for 5 to 10 seconds, NASA officials said. (Future versions of CAL may be able to hold on for hundreds of seconds, if technology improves as expected, officials added.)
The researchers hope CAL observations will lead to the improvement of several technologies, such as quantum computers, atomic clocks for spacecraft navigation and sensors of various types - including some that could help detect dark energy. The current model of the universe suggests we can only see about 5 percent of what's out there. The remainder is split between dark matter (27 percent) and dark energy (68 percent).
"This means that even with all of our current technologies, we are still blind to 95 percent of the universe," JPL's Kamal Oudrhiri, CAL deputy project manager, said in the same statement. "Like a new lens in Galileo's first telescope, the ultra-sensitive cold atoms in the Cold Atom Lab have the potential to unlock many mysteries beyond the frontiers of known physics."
CAL, which was developed at JPL, is scheduled to fly to the ISS this August aboard SpaceX's robotic Dragon cargo capsule. Final testing is underway ahead of CAL's shipment to the launch pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida, NASA officials said.
Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace. Original article on Space.com.