Early universe matter for fractions of a second after the Big Bang have been created.
Researchers have recreated tiny droplets of the so-called primordial soup that filled the early universe moments after the Big Bang.
It’s widely accepted that the young universe, in the first few microseconds after its birth, was much too hot to host assembled atoms.
Instead, physicists believe the newborn cosmos consisted of a liquid-like state of matter known as a quark gluon plasma.
For the first time, scientists claim to have created droplets of this plasma, revealing how they can expand into three distinct shapes: circles, ellipses, and triangles.
‘Our experimental result has brought us much closer to answering the question of what is the smallest amount of early universe matter than can exist,’ says Jamie Nagle, a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
For the PHENIX experiment, researchers used the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Lab to smash protons and neutrons together.
These collisions generate ultra-hot temperatures in the trillions of degrees Celsius, causing the subatomic particles that create protons and neutrons to break apart into their elementary forms.
Under certain conditions, the team found the resulting droplets expanded to form three different shapes.
The new effort follows nearly two decades of research on this type of matter at the RHIC, and puts an early theory to the test, assessing whether lone protons – as opposed to atoms – can generate enough energy to make matter flow like liquid.
According to Nagle, if this is the case, the droplets should be able to hold their shape.
‘Imagine that you have two droplets that are expanding into a vacuum,’ Nagle says.
‘If the two droplets are really close together, then as they’re expanding out, they run into each other and push against each other, and that’s what creates this pattern.’
And, the PHENIX experiment found that’s just what happens.