big bang

Heavy-ion collisions, the quark-gluon plasma, and quantum chromodynamics

For a few millionths of a second, shortly after the big bang, the universe was filled with an astonishingly hot, dense soup made of all kinds of particles moving at near light speed. This mixture was dominated by quarks – fundamental bits of matter – and by gluons, carriers of the strong force that normally “glue” quarks together into familiar protons and neutrons and other species. In those first evanescent moments of extreme temperature, however, quarks and gluons were bound only weakly, free to move on their own in what’s called a quark-gluon plasma.

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