US physicists have created matter at around four trillion degrees Celsius, the hottest temperature ever reached in a laboratory, simulating a "quark soup" scientists believe existed at the universe's birth.
The Department of Energy lab where the record-breaking temperature was reached said the effect was achieved by slamming together gold ions traveling at nearly the speed of light inside the Brookhaven National Laboratory's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) -- an "atom smasher" with a 2.4-mile (3.8-kilometer) circumference.
The ultra-high temperature is higher than what is needed to melt protons and neutrons into a plasma of quarks and gluons, the substance that filled the universe a few microseconds after it came into existence 13.7 billion years ago, Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) said Monday.
The plasma of four trillion degrees Celsius (7.2 trillion degrees Fahrenheit) -- 250,000 times hotter than the center of the sun -- existed for only a few microseconds after the birth of the universe.
It quickly cooled and condensed to form the protons and neutrons that make up everything from individual atoms to stars, planets and people, Brookhaven explained on its website.
The temperature of hot matter is measured by looking at the color, or energy distribution, of light emitted from it -- similar to the way one can tell that an iron rod is hot by looking at its glow.
The properties of the matter produced at RHIC were determined using highly sophisticated detectors that looked at the particles the matter emitted during its very brief lifetime -- less than one billionth of one trillionth of a second.
The US research program will be complemented by studies soon to get under way at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 17-mile-circumference particle accelerator buried underground on the French-Swiss border near Geneva, the BNL said.
"The LHC will devote a month each year to colliding heavy nuclei at energies much higher than RHIC's -- extending the exploration of matter one step farther back in time toward the birth of the universe," BNL said.
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