Quark Soup

David Cowles

May 29, 2022

“I once filled the entire universe, but for less than a second. I am 100,000 times hotter than the center of the sun, but I am still a liquid. I am denser than anything in the universe, except a black hole, but I flow 20 times more easily and smoothly than water. Who am I?”


Do you like riddles? Try this one:


“I once filled the entire universe, but for less than a second. I am 100,000 times hotter than the center of the sun, but I am still a liquid. I am denser than anything in the universe, except a black hole, but I flow 20 times more easily and smoothly than water. Who am I?”


Give up? I’m Quark Soup! But what the heck is that?


All the objects in our world are made of atoms. Each atom consists of a nucleus and a bunch of electrons (ok, at least one electron) surrounding that nucleus. The nucleus of an atom is made of protons and neutrons, and protons and neutrons are made up of quarks: three quarks each to be exact.


Quarks stick together…but not necessarily by choice. They are held together by a very strong kind of superglue called a gluon (glue-on, get it?). But gluons work differently from any glue you’ve ever used. When the quarks are just hanging out peacefully inside a proton or neutron, the gluons don’t do much; however, if one quark tries to break loose from the others, the gluons swing into action. They tug tightly on that quark so it can’t escape. The more the quark tries to pull away, the tighter the gluon tugs on it.


Gluons are so strong that there is no way for a quark to escape from a proton or neutron…unless you heat it up to four trillion degrees (4,000,000,000,000º C). Only at that temperature (sometimes written 4 x 10¹², meaning 4 with 12 zeros after it) can quarks break gluons’ grip to form Quark Soup.


So, where can I go to sample this rare gastronomic treat? You’d need to rent a time machine, but if you point your time machine at the center of the universe as it was 13 billion years ago, you’ll find yourself, quite literally, ‘in the soup.’


You’ll have to calibrate your time machine very, very accurately, though. Your target is a fraction of a second, 13 billion years ago. If you want Quark Soup, you’ve got to ‘stick’ the landing.


Ok, that sounds annoying! How about I travel to the center of the sun instead? I hear there are some fabulous restaurants there, but no, sorry, you’re out of luck there too: the center of the sun is a mere 40,000,000º C – we’re still five zeros short. You have a better chance of getting a frozen popsicle on the sun than you have of getting Quark Soup.


Let’s recap: You’re craving Quark Soup, but there’s literally nowhere in the universe you can go to get it, at least not now! You can either travel back 13 billion years…or you can make it yourself! The recipe is super easy, and the ingredients are relatively cheap, though the ‘pots and pans’ you’ll need for this recipe could be a bit pricey.


Recipe: The nuclei of two gold atoms, two miles of tubing and some very powerful magnets. Insert the nuclei into the tube and use the magnets to accelerate the nuclei through that tube. When you get the nuclei up to a speed almost equal to the speed of light, use the magnets to make them crash into one another, head-on. Bang, you’ve got the temperature you need for Quark Soup!


Once upon a time, but only for a fraction of a second, the whole universe was Quark Soup. Long before the end of that first second, the soup disappeared and has never since existed anywhere in the universe…except once on Long Island (NY); of course, where else?


In 2010, at a place called Brookhaven, scientists finally freed quarks from their 13 billion year bondage! They built something called a Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC for short) – this is the costly part. They followed the recipe (above) exactly (using 1,740 powerful magnets) and guess what? It worked! They ‘created’ Quark Soup on Long Island.


So, if you can’t get enough time off from work or school to go back to the center of the universe 13 billion years ago, perhaps you could make it to Long Island, a dozen or so years ago. Even so, this seems like a lot of trouble to go through for a drop of soup: what’s this soup like, anyway? What makes it soooo special?


Well, for one thing, it’s hot, very, very hot, 4 x 10¹²º C hot, but it’s still a liquid: ‘Quark Soup don’t boil!’ And what a liquid! It pours at least 20 times more easily than ordinary tap water, but it it is also very, very thick (i.e., dense). Good thing because it’s also very, very small.


How small is it? Think of a box (cube) where each edge is about an inch long. Is that how small it is? Not exactly.


Now split that box up into 10 smaller boxes. Is that how small it is? Are we there yet?


Then, split one of those smaller boxes into 10 even smaller boxes, and keep doing this until you’ve done it a total of 12 times. That’s how small it is and, yes, we’re there now!


Talk about small portions! Of course, you could order a sandwich with your soup, but no need. A drop of Quark Soup weighs about 1,000 pounds. Oops, hold that sandwich and bring me a doggie-bag instead.


Turns out, Quark Soup is heavier (the correct scientific term is “denser”) than anything else in the universe…except a black hole.


So, Quark Soup is hot, slippery, and thick, but what does it taste like? Is it worth all the fuss?


Who knows? No one’s ever tasted it. There were no people around 13 billion years ago to sample this concoction, and time travel has not been perfected yet. What about Long Island? The scientists at Brookhaven were watching their weight. A 1,000 pound drop of soup was the last thing they needed! However, there’s another problem: a single drop would vaporize your whole body – a heavy price to pay for a sip, however delicious it may be. So, there’s no way to know what Quark Soup tastes like, unless, of course, you ask Bobby Flay.


 

David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at david@aletheiatoday.com.

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