Quantum physicists are about to get their own playground in space. NASA’s Cold Atom Laboratory, scheduled to launch to the International Space Station on 20 May, is set to be the coldest place in the known Universe. Researchers will use the lab to probe quantum phenomena that would be impossible to observe on Earth.

The US$83-million mission will be used to study quantum mechanics on the macroscopic scale by making a state of matter known as a Bose–Einstein condensate (BEC). These are clouds of hundreds of thousands of atoms that, when chilled to just above absolute zero, behave as waves that synchronize into a single quantum object. “Just being able to do these experiments in space I think is a huge accomplishment,” says Kamal Oudrhiri, mission manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

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