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Ion collider produces droplets of primordial goo

Sensors at the lab were able to detect a three-point triangle-like spread of scrambled particles -- within which researchers identified the "perfect liquid."

By Brooks Hays
Ion collider produces droplets of primordial goo
A graph shows the three hotspots of perfect liquid which emanated from the particle collision. Photo by RHIC/Brookhaven Lab

UPTON, N.Y., Sept. 4 (UPI) -- The Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider just spit out tiny droplets of a liquid researchers say resembles the seeds of the cosmos, a primordial goo created by the Big Bang, which existed only briefly before cooling into the matter that helped birth stars, galaxies and planets.

Scientists have reported seeing the tiny liquid droplets before, but this time, researchers got a better look at the production process.

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What researchers are calling quark-gluon plasma, or QGP, is the product of a collision between helium-3 nuclei and gold ions. When these particles come into contact at high speeds under the right conditions -- extreme temperatures and densities, unfriendly to regular matter -- the product is a "perfect liquid."

The RHIC experiments were carried out by high-energy physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory, in Upton, New York. Sensors at the lab were able to detect a three-point triangle-like spread of scrambled particles. Within the mess of the collision, the three hotspots revealed the new liquid, with particles behaving not at random, as a normal liquid would, but in perfect coordination.

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"Physicists initially thought that only the nuclei of large atoms such as gold would have enough matter and energy to set free the quark and gluon building blocks that make up protons and neutrons," Berndt Mueller, associate director of nuclear and particle physics at the lab, explained in a press release. "But the flow patterns detected by RHIC's PHENIX [Pioneering High Energy Nuclear Interaction eXperiment] collaboration in collisions of helium-3 nuclei with gold ions now confirm that these smaller particles are creating tiny samples of perfect liquid QGP."

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The perfect liquid is detailed in several new scientific papers, published in the journal Nuclear Physics A. Another corresponding paper was published in the journal APS Physics.

"This is the first paper that clearly shows multiple particles are correlated to each other in proton-lead collisions, similar to what is observed in lead-lead collisions where quark gluon plasma is produced," Yen-Jie Lee, assistant professor of physics at MIT, said in a statement. "This is probably the first evidence that the smallest droplet of quark gluon plasma is produced in proton-lead collisions."

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Lee is part of a group of scientists that produced similar results using the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

Now, researchers in both the United States and Europe will go back to the drawing board. They will continue to observe similar particle collisions for new insights into the nature of this new form of matter, and they will do their best to incorporate the latest surprises into their current models.

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