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This Is the Most Accurate Picture of the Atom We Have So Far

Por: Ecoo sfera17 de enero de 2023

Recently an intriguing image of an atom has been taken, which is so far the closest we have to how they look.

The subatomic world remains a mystery for scientists, who are trying to discover how particles smaller than atoms are structured and to understand how our reality is formulated. But the task is not easy; in fact, despite the progress of science, we do not have to date accurate images of atoms, although recently this intriguing image has been taken, which is so far the closest we have to how atoms are.

Particle accelerators are the laboratories of the subatomic world, and it is precisely in one of them that a strange image was obtained. The Relativistic Heavy Ion Accelerator (RHIC) at Brookhaven Laboratory in the United States can accelerate gold ions to dizzying speeds. Here the ions are propelled to 99.995% of the speed of light.

[Photo: Brookhaven National Laboratory]

How the Most Accurate Image of the Atom Was Obtained

Through a series of quantum fluctuations, the photons that are the particles responsible for all forms of electromagnetic radiation, including the light we observe, interact with gluons, the glue-like particles that hold quarks together inside the protons and neutrons of atom nuclei.

Although scientists cannot observe these interactions, they know they are there by measuring the velocity of the atoms, as well as the angles at which they hit RHIC’s STAR detector. Thanks to these data, particle physicists can step back to obtain crucial information about atoms and use it to map the arrangement of sub-particles within the nuclei of atoms, now with greater precision than ever before.

[Photo: Brookhaven National Laboratory]

This technique is similar to the way doctors use positron emission tomography (PET) “to see what’s going on inside the brain and other parts of the body,” said Dr. James Daniel Brandenburg, a STAR Collaboration member, and physicist at Ohio State University’s Brookhaven National Laboratory.

But in this case, we’re talking about mapping features on the scale of femtometers, quadrillionths of a meter, and the size of an individual proton. In other words, the researchers have managed to obtain precise details about how the gold atoms are structured by employing a type of quantum interference never before seen in an experiment. The result is a stunning image showing the arrangement of the particles in the nucleus, although interference from light beams emitted by the particle accelerator can also be seen.

Story originally published in Spanish in Ecoosfera

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