Hot, Hotter, Hottest

Since our high school, we are aware of 3 states of matter, namely Solids, Liquids and Gas. These are the states of matter observed in everyday life. Things are solid when they are cold, liquids when they are normal and gases when they are hot (relative to the respective boiling point). But what if things started to get hotter, hotter than what we perceive can exist? What will we observe then?

Let’s talk about the highest temperatures in the universe. When we talk of the highest temperatures, the first thing that comes to our mind is the Sun. At the centre of the sun, the temperature exceeds 15 million degrees centigrade. This temperature is high enough to strip atoms of their electrons and the nucleus and the electrons flow freely which forms some sort of ionized matter called plasma. Many of you must we aware of even this state of matter. But, there is a state of matter which forms in even hotter conditions.

The Quark-gluon Plasma

Imagine a bunch of atoms. These atoms are heated to extreme temperatures which strip them of their electrons to form plasma. Now, these atoms are heated even further. At some temperature, the conditions are so extreme that the strong nuclear force in the nuclei is overcome and the protons and the neutrons move freely. But, this is not enough. We need even more heat. The temperatures are raised even higher. Now, the constituent particles of the protons and neutrons which are the quarks and gluons move around freely. The protons and neutrons are literally obliterated. The quarks are held together by the strongest force in the universe, yet at some of the highest temperatures even that must give in.

  The temperature in the start of the universe was so high that it was completely filled with the quark gluon plasma. Later on temperatures cooled down which led to the formation of matter and the universe as we know it. Now you might ask what sort of temperatures are we reaching such that even the protons and neutrons are perish? We are talking about temperatures of up to a few trillion degrees! This state of matter was first proposed in the 1970s and 1980s and experimentally confirmed in the year 2000. Where did we create this matter? Physicists created this state of matter in the biggest particle accelerators of the world. Two protons are accelerated to the speed of light and smashed together. This process mimics mini big bangs shows us that what happened just a moment after the big bang.

We are studying this state of matter closely and expect to learn a great deal about the universe from it.

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