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Boomerang Nebula: ALMA Telescope Reveals the Coldest Place in the Universe

By Sean Breslin
Published: October 31, 2013

Grab your coats. Scientists may have found the coldest spot in the universe.

Located about 5,000 light years from Earth in the constellation Centaurus, the Boomerang Nebula has a temperature of minus 458 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Kelvin), according to Sci-news.com. The nebula, which the report states is beginning to warm around its outer edges, is colder than the Big Bang's afterglow, which is the natural temperature of space and previously the coldest known temperature in space.

(MORE: ALMA Telescope Catches Black Hole in the Act)

UPI reports the nebula was discovered by the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope, which began peering into outer space earlier this year and is located in Chile's Atacama Desert.

"This ultra-cold object is extremely intriguing and we're learning much more about its true nature with ALMA," said Raghvendra Sahai, the study's lead author at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “What seemed like a double lobe, or ‘boomerang’ shape, from Earth-based optical telescopes, is actually a much broader structure that is expanding rapidly into space.”

The super-cold temperature is caused by an outflow of gas from a dying star that is rapidly expanding while cooling itself, reports the National Radio Astronomy Observatory. By observing the Boomerang Nebula's absorption of cosmic microwave background radiation, which is a uniform 455 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (2.8 degrees Kelvin), scientists could take the temperature of the gas.

(MORE: Group Wants to Defend Earth From Asteroids)

Because the ALMA telescope is the strongest of its kind, it was able to detect that the nebula, which appeared to be shaped like a bow tie, is almost spherical, writes Time Science and Space. The optical illusion is created when starlight reflects off grains of dust, but then the dust blocks the light from illuminating in all directions.

MORE: Seeing Red in Space

The Sun's Innermost Atmosphere

The Sun's Innermost Atmosphere

This picture is made of images taken far away as well as close to the sun, which allows scientists to compare what happens at both locations. Here you see a coronal mass ejection moving away from the sun in the upper right corner. (Image: ESA/NASA)

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