If you’re dreading the winter cold, know that things could be a lot worse. Scientists in Italy have cooled 880 pounds of copper to a temperature approaching absolute zero; that’s 0 Kelvin, or -459.67 degrees Fahrenheit.
The copper reached a temperature of -459.66 Fahrenheit.
“The cooled copper mass … was the coldest cubic meter in the universe for over 15 days,” says the National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN in Italian).
“It is the first experiment ever to cool a mass and a volume of this size to a temperature this close to absolute zero.”
The collaboration responsible for the record-setting refrigeration is called the Cryogenic Underground Observatory for Rare Events (CUORE), supported jointly by the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN) in Italy, and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and National Science Foundation in the US.
Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (Berkeley Lab) manages the CUORE project in the US. The CUORE collaboration is made of 157 scientists from the U.S., Italy, China, Spain, and France, and is based in the underground Italian facility called Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso (LNGS) of the INFN.
“We’ve been building this experiment for almost ten years,” says Yury Kolomensky, senior faculty scientist in the Physics Division of Berkeley Lab, professor of physics at UC Berkeley.
“This is a tremendous feat of cryogenics. We’ve exceeded our goal of 10 milliKelvin. Nothing in the universe this large has ever been as cold.”
The record-setting cold temperature, achieved with a chamber-like device known as a cryostat, would be a prelude to another experiment that might help explain the behavior of ghostly subatomic particles known as neutrinos, and it might answer longstanding questions about the composition of matter in the universe.
Scientists stated that the experiment would look at a rare process called neutrinoless double-beta decay and detection of this process would let researchers demonstrate, for the first time, that neutrinos and antineutrinos are the same, thereby offering a possible explanation for the abundance of matter, rather than anti-matter, in the universe.