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Absolute zero: No longer the coldest temperature possible?


Scientists had believed that gravity would slow down or stop the universe's expansion after the Big Bang, however it is apparently speeding up, possibly due to dark energy (Courtesy NASA)
Scientists had believed that gravity would slow down or stop the universe's expansion after the Big Bang, however it is apparently speeding up, possibly due to dark energy (Courtesy NASA)

Kevan Karanjia, Staff Writer

January 5, 2013 — Absolute zero has long been considered the coldest temperature possible... until now, after researchers demonstrated it's conceivable to go even colder.

It was previously thought that it was impossible to go lower than zero kelvin
It was previously thought that it was impossible to go lower than zero kelvin

The coldest temperature ever recorded on earth was -89 degrees Celsius at Vostok Station, Antarctica.

Now imagine approximately -273.15 degrees Celsius or absolute zero, the theoretical lowest possible temperature — well researchers might have discovered its possible to get even colder. 

A team of German scientists reported that they were able to produce a negative temperature system that was stable for hundreds of milliseconds. 

The findings are significant because they could allow for the study of materials once thought too complicated to analyze. 

Scientists reached the new level of cold by limiting how much energy an atom can posses. They cooled nearly 100,000 atoms to almost zero kelvin (absolute zero) within a vacuum chamber, isolating them from any influences that could potentially heat them. 

Once the cooling was accomplished, they used lasers and magnetic fields to control how the atoms behaved and the result was a completely new understanding of temperature.

To put temperature into perspective, it is the measure of how much an objects atoms move — the colder an object, the slower its atoms will move. 

Based on these facts, nothing should technically be colder than zero kelvin.

The 5 coldest temperatures recorded on earth don't come close to absolute zero
The 5 coldest temperatures recorded on earth don't come close to absolute zero

The findings highlight that temperature is not a linear measurement but actually a loop. 

The loop is divided into positive and negative sections.

When temperatures go either below zero or above infinity in the positive region, they end up in negative territory.

The findings will allow scientists to explore in more detail high efficient mechanical engines. 

It is hoped that in the future negative temperatures could be used to create 100% efficient engines, where such devices would not only absorb energy from hot substances but colder ones as well. 

The findings might also shed more light on what is known as "Dark energy," a hypothetical force thought to be found throughout the universe. 

Dark energy is believed to be behind the universe's accelerated expansion, quashing a previous theory that thought everything was actually collapsing together. 

Since scientists found negative temperatures did not cause a substance to collapse, there might be some parallels with the mysterious energy.

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