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Scientists Find 'Coldest Place in the Universe'

The Boomerang Nebula is minus 458 degrees Fahrenheit
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 22, 2014 4:00 PM CST

(Newser) – Think winter is cold in your neck of the woods? It's nothing compared to the Boomerang Nebula (also known as the Bow Tie Nebula), where a dying star 5,000 light-years away has created the coldest known place in the universe, Smithsonian reports in a wintery look at the 2013 discovery. And by cold, we mean 1 degree Kelvin or minus 458 degrees Fahrenheit—just a smidge less frosty than absolute zero. Researchers measured the temperature last year in northern Chile with a special telescope dubbed ALMA, Space.com reported. "This ultra-cold object is extremely intriguing, and we’re learning much more about its true nature with ALMA," said the NASA scientist behind the research. "What seemed like a double lobe, or 'boomerang' shape ... is actually a much broader structure that is expanding rapidly into space."

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The dying star, which once resembled our sun, is producing the Boomerang Nebula by emitting lots of gas in "a process similar to how refrigerators stay cold by using expanding gas," noted Space.com. The star will eventually expand into a red giant, run empty on gas, and dissipate into a highly dense stellar remnant called a white dwarf. But the nebula, which was named back in 1980, will lose its coldest-ever ranking as soon as 2016, when NASA plans to place a Cold Atom Lab inside the International Space Station and create temperatures above absolute zero by just 1/10 billionth of a degree, io9 reports. The lab will be used to explore "previously inaccessible" low temperatures "where interesting and novel quantum phenomena can be expected," says NASA. (In other space news, Kepler has "risen from the ashes.")

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