Tantalizing signs of phase-change ‘turbulence’ in RHIC collisions

Physicists studying collisions of gold ions at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science user facility for nuclear physics research at DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, are embarking on a journey through the phases of nuclear matter—the stuff that makes up the nuclei of all the visible matter in our universe. A new analysis of collisions conducted at different energies shows tantalizing signs of a critical point—a change in the way that quarks and gluons, the building blocks of protons and neutrons, transform from one phase to another. The findings, just published by RHIC’s STAR Collaboration in the journal Physical Review Letters, will help physicists map out details of these nuclear phase changes to better understand the evolution of the universe and the conditions in the cores of neutron stars.
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