The Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), located at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, is the machine responsible for producing the blistering heat, which scientists achieved by smashing ions of pure gold into each other at close to the speed of light in an effort to replicate the conditions of the universe “a millionth of a second after the Big Bang,” according to a Brookhaven news release published Monday about the record.
Quarks are the elementary particles from which all other particles, including protons, neutrons and electrons, are made. They normally bind together so tightly that they are virtually never observed in isolation. The binding force that holds them together is provided by massless particles called gluons.
In an experiment called PHENIX, researchers accelerated gold ions in both directions around the ring, ultimately smashing them together in one of six experimental chambers around the accelerator. The team then observed the very brief formation of the quark-gluon plasma, which turned out to be a nearly frictionless fluid with a temperature of 4 trillion degrees Celsius (7.2 trillion degrees Fahrenheit), a feat that has now been recognized by the folks at Guinness.
“There are many cool things about this ultra-hot matter," physicist Steven Vigdor, who leads Brookhaven's nuclear and particle physics program, said in a statement. He added that while they expected to reach such super-hot temperatures, "we did not at all anticipate the nearly perfect liquid behavior."
This friction-free liquid occurs at both ends of the temperature spectrum, the researchers said.
"Other physicists have now observed quite similar liquid behavior in trapped atom samples at temperatures near absolute zero, ten million trillion times colder than the quark-gluon plasma we create at RHIC," Vigdor said.
RHIC may not hold onto its hot record for long. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland smashes lead ions together at near light-speed; one experiment there dubbed ALICE (a large ion collider experiment) may be in a position to trump RHIC's record.
"The energy density at the LHC is a factor of three higher than at RHIC," said CERN physicist Despina Hatzifotiadou in a statement. "This translates to a 30-percent increase in absolute temperature compared to the value achieved by RHIC. So I would say that ALICE has the record!"
Though, ALICE researchers have not yet published an official measure of the temperature for its quark-gluon plasma.