Physicists create ultra-hot drops of ‘quark soup’

By slamming small particles into heavy gold nuclei at nearly the speed of light, scientists have created tiny, ultra-hot droplets of a bizarre type of matter called a quark-gluon plasma (QGP), which once filled the entire universe shortly after the Big Bang.

Creating such a ‘quark soup’ is a tough task in its own right; the first sample of QGP was produced less than two decades ago by smashing two heavy atoms together. But for this new study, which was carried out as part of the PHENIX experiment at Brookhaven National Laboratory, the researchers took it beyond just creating the substance.

They showed it’s possible to create samples of quark soup by simply shooting small particles, such as protons, at heavier nuclei, such as gold. By doing so, the team surprisingly found that the tiny droplets of QGP expanded outward in three distinct geometric shapes — circles, ellipses, and triangles.

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