According to Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) press release, their experiments are the hottest in the world. The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes RHIC’s achievement by officially stating that their primordial plasma— a substance not seen since it filled the universe microseconds after the Big Bang—is the hottest stuff in the world.
For many, large collider laboratories like RHIC can be sources of apocalyptical anxiety—and no wonder, since Brookhaven released a Committee Review of “Speculative Disaster” scenarios ranging from the creation of a more stable universe to the formation of a “strangelet” that could convert matter to a new form. Although many people fear the controlled creation of tiny black holes in colliders, for physics nerds, the mile-long underground colliders are well known as places where exciting things can happen at the sub-atomic level.
By smashing the nuclei of gold atoms together, RHIC has created a frictionless primordial plasma of gluons and quarks that act like a perfect liquid. By observing the color of light emitted from the collision, RHIC was able to determine the temperature until it passed out of the visible spectrum. Once out of this spectrum, the plasma reaches a temperature strong enough to free quarks and gluons. These charges separate and induce a magnetic field, which in turn reveals different symmetry processes that explain why there is more matter than antimatter in our world.
Although certainly not the scientists at RHIC’s goal, breaking the Guinness World Record for creating a substance 250,000 times hotter than the center of the sun is something else for them to brag about. In addition to being 4 trillion degrees Celsius, this plasma releases a number of interesting particles that react in various ways to either prove or disprove the presence (or absence) of theoretical particles or conditions.
Steven Vigdor, the leader of Brookhaven’s nuclear and particle physics program, said they expected to achieve these temperatures and conditions. What was unexpected was the way in which the plasma behaves at both ends of the thermal spectrum. Vigdor says, “Other physicists have now observed quite similar liquid behaviour in trapped atom samples at temperatures near absolute zero, ten million trillion times colder than the quark-gluon plasma we create at RHIC.”
The largest at 17 miles long, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN expects to beat RHIC’s world record for hot stuff by a “30 percent increase in absolute temperature,” according to CERN physicist Despina Hatzifotiodou. Guiness, however, will not recognize the substance as the hottest in the world until the team publishes an official temperature.