By smashing together gold and helium-3 ions, a particle collider has created tiny droplets of the same primordial soup formed at the Big Bang.
What is this primordial goo?
It’s the state of matter that existed at the very birth of the universe, nearly 14,000,000,000 years ago. Quark-gluon plasma (QGP) is the frictionless “perfect liquid” responsible for creating the building blocks of matter, existing in temperatures that are so hot that regular matter cannot exist.
This plasma only exists in its liquid state for a short time before cooling, condensing, and kicking off the creation of matter.
Is QGP a new discovery?
Yes and no. Scientists have known about the primordial plasma for some time, and just recently our technology advanced enough to be able to attempt to create it.
In 2005, the same plasma was successfully formed by colliding protons with lead ions. However, this is the very first time anyone has created QGP by colliding heavy ions (gold) with helium-3 ions – a much lighter ion.
The universe, made in New York
At the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, scientists sped up gold ions and helium-3 ions to nearly the speed of light around the 2.4 mile “track” before colliding them with each other in an explosion so short and so small that we can’t even type the numbers here, so we’ll use words:
The explosion exists for one-billionth of one-billionth of one-millionth of a second. Got that?
The size of the fireball is one-billionth of one-millionth of a meter in diameter.
To say that it’s small is an understatement, but what the explosion lacks in size and duration it makes up for in heat:
The matter created by the gold and helium-3 ions colliding is 7,200,000,032° F – 250,000 times hotter than the sun’s core. Guinness World Records recognized it as the “Highest Man-Made Temperature” of all-time.
The big deal about helium-3 ions
The fact that scientists were able to create quark-gluon plasma using helium-3 ions means that the goo can be created at much lower energy levels (helium-3 ions are lighter than the previous lead ions used to produce QGP) than anyone thought.
This gives researchers an incredible opportunity to study a substance that hasn’t been around in 13.8 billion years and hopefully, unlock more secrets about the origin of the universe.