Four trillion degrees: U.S. lab hits record temp.

Protons, neutrons melt to produce "quark-gluon plasma" at RHIC Brookhaven National Laboratory

(CBS News) Brookhaven National Laboratory calls it "the world's hottest Guinness." But they're not talking about beer, they're talking about the Guinness World Records organization which recently acknowledged Brookhaven for creating the highest man-made temperature ever. The New York-based laboratory's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) smashed particles together and created a substance recorded at four trillion degrees Celsius - over 720,000 times hotter than the surface of the sun.

Scientists were not actually going for a record when analyzing results from their particle collider. The RHIC was designed to recreate the conditions in the first few milliseconds after the Big Bang by smashing atomic particles together along the RHIC's 2.4-mile underground "racetrack." The fact that they smashed a record as well is just a bonus.

A Brookhaven press release describes the experiment that led to the incredible record:

When RHIC collides gold ions at nearly the speed of light, the impact energy becomes so intense that the neutrons and protons inside the gold nuclei "melt," releasing fundamental quarks and gluons that then form a nearly friction-free primordial plasma that only existed in Nature about a millionth of one second after the Big Bang. RHIC discovered this primordial, liquid-like quark-gluon plasma and measured its temperature at around 4 trillion degrees Celsius - that's 250,000 times hotter than the center of the sun.

For the record, 4 trillion Celsius is roughly 7.2 trillion Fahrenheit.

World record aside, the liquid behavior of the "quark-gluon plasma" is what really fascinates scientists. Similar properties have been observed in subatomic particles at the opposite end of the thermometer as well.

"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," Steven Vigdor, the head of Brookhaven's nuclear and particle physics program, said in a press release.

"This is just one among many unexpected connections we've found between RHIC physics and other scientific forefronts. The unity of physics is a beautiful thing!"

  • Bailey Johnson

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