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On the International Space Station, astronauts are weightless. Atoms are, too.

That weightlessness makes it easier to study a weird quantum state of matter known as a Bose-Einstein condensate. Now, the first Bose-Einstein condensates made on the space station are reported in the June 11 Nature.

The ability to study the strange state of matter in orbit will aid scientists’ understanding of fundamental physics as well as make possible new, more sensitive quantum measurements, says Lisa Wörner of the German Aerospace Center Institute of Quantum Technologies in Bremen. “I cannot overstate the importance of this experiment to the community,” she says.

A Bose-Einstein condensate occurs when certain types of atoms are cooled to such low temperatures that they take on one unified state. “It’s as though they’re joining arms and behaving as one harmonious object,” says physicist David Aveline of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. To produce the weird state of matter in orbit, he and colleagues created the Cold Atom Lab, which was installed on the space station in 2018.

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Category: Science