Guinness World Records has recognized Brookhaven National Laboratory's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider as the device which has set a new standard for achieving the "Highest Man-Made Temperature": a mind boggingly extreme 4 trillion degrees Celsius -– which is 250,000 times hotter than the center of the Sun.
The heavy ion collider achieved this remarkable feat by smashing gold ions together at nearly the speed of light. The collider, which is 2.4 miles long, produced the collision — which resulted in impact energy so intense that the neutrons and protons inside the gold nuclei "melted," releasing fundamental quarks and gluons that then formed a nearly friction-free primordial plasma.
In addition to "friction-free primordial plasma" being one of the coolest phrases spawned by particle physics in recent memory, it's thought that this liquid-like quark-gluon plasma only existed about a millionth of one second after the Big Bang -– and it was this substance that was measured at 4 trillion degrees.
Interestingly, other physicists have observed similar liquid behavior trapped in atom samples -– but at temperature near absolute zero, which is ten million trillion times colder than the quark-gluon plasma. In a Brookhaven press release, physicist Steven Vigdor said that, "This is just one among many unexpected connections we've found between RHIC physics and other scientific forefronts. The unity of physics is a beautiful thing!"
Now, it's worth noting that there's a bit of collider-envy going on, here. The 17-mile Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN can also perform a similar trick -– but potentially at an energy density three times higher than that of the one at Brookhaven. CERN physicist Despina Hatzifotiadou has said, "This translates to a 30 percent increase in absolute temperature compared to the value achieved by RHIC. So I would say that ALICE has the record!"
This may be true, but the physicists working at CERN have yet to publish their results, which is why Guinness hasn't recognized the claim. So, it looks like Brookhaven's RHIC is still king of the heat, but probably not for long.
Inset image via Brookhaven.