There are several places in the universe that are colder than we can ever imagine here on this planet. Of these, what and where is the coldest place in the universe? What temperatures does it see and how does it manage to remain so cold? Let’s find out below!
Coldest Place In The Universe: Short Summary
The coldest place in the universe in which low temperatures occur naturally is the Boomerang Nebula. This reflecting cloud or preplanetary nebula in the Centaurus constellation remains as cold as -458°F.
The Boomerang Nebula is nearly 5,000 light years away from Earth.
There are several reasons that can help explain these kinds of cold temperatures, such as the shape of the nebula, its planetary nebula form and its expulsion of mass and material.
You can learn more about this through this YouTube video.
Where Is The Coldest Place In The Universe?
The coldest place in the universe is the Boomerang Nebula. This is a protoplanetary or preplanetary nebula that is on its way to quickly evolve into a planetary nebula. This star system has been around for a long, long time and is situated in the Centaurus constellation in space.
This Centaurus constellation is located in the southern direction of the universe, based on the way we measure directions here on Earth. Containing multiple big and bright stars, many of which are even visible from the Earth’s sky, this constellation has several protoplanetary nebulae, including the Boomerang Nebula.
The distance of various stars, bodies and galaxies located in this constellation are at varying distances from the Earth, making it possible for certain stars to be much closer compared to others.
Based on this, Boomerang Nebula is at a distance of nearly 5,000 light-years from Earth, which is much further than some stars but generally much closer compared to many other stars and bodies.
It is important to note here that this Boomerang Nebula contains temperatures that are colder than the rest of space itself. Space, in this case, refers to the empty space present in the universe and not parts of it that contain such universal elements as galaxies, stars, planets and similar bodies.
Additionally, it might be easy to envision Boomerang Nebula as a defined structure (like a planet), but it is actually a large mass of gas. It appears similar to a cloud, which is often why it is referred to as a reflective cloud.
What Does the Boomerang Nebula Look Like?
The Boomerang Nebula looks like a massive glowing light that has a central converging point with two flashes of light on either side. Why, then, is this preplanetary nebula called the Boomerang Nebula?
When it was initially discovered and observed in space, there were several limitations in terms of what the telescopes could achieve and the kind of scope they could reach through their technology. Based on this, when astronomers first came to view the Boomerang Nebula, they could only observe a small part of it.
This resembled the shape of a boomerang due to the lobes at the end being curved. It was only later, when more advanced telescopes were used, that a more accurate and fuller version of this system was captured, resembling an hourglass.
With further observations and advancements, the shapes became even more apparent. For instance, in 2013, astronomers found that the Boomerang Nebula actually has a double lobe that gives it almost a ghost-like appearance. The cloud takes on a longer and more oval shape than was previously imagined.
There are also numerous grainy and dust-like particles that surround this structure, which is responsible for giving the protoplanetary nebula its hourglass-like resemblance.
The light that is visible tends to be orange-like in color, with the surrounding particles giving it a more blue-like shade. With further developments in the technology of telescopes, it is possible to get an even clearer view of the Boomerang Nebula.
Discovery and Further Developments
Astronomers and scientists were not always aware of the existence of the Boomerang Nebula, nor was its precise shape and temperature known from the very beginning.
Let’s take a look at how and when scientists discovered the Boomerang Nebula, how they came to know more about it and how they determined that it was the coldest place in the universe.
It was in the year 1980 that astronomers first discovered and observed the Boomerang Nebula from a telescope. Keith Taylor and Mike Scarrott made use of the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) located inside the Siding Spring Observatory near New South Wales in Australia.
They could only view it faintly, based on which they came to the conclusion that the nebula had curved ends, just like a boomerang. This was why it began to be referred to as the Boomerang Nebula.
It was only in the year 1995, 15 years after its discovery, that astronomers found that the Boomerang Nebula is the coldest place in the universe. This was a result of astronomer Raghvendra Sahai’s 1990 research on cold regions in the universe.
Sahai, along with Lars-Åke Nyman and their team, used the Swedish-ESO Submillimetre Telescope in Chile to put the research into practice, based on which they discovered the low temperatures in this nebula.
The Hubble Space Telescope, which continues to capture images of space from the Earth’s orbit, captured clearer images of the Boomerang Nebula in the year 1998.
It was then that astronomers got a better and more accurate picture of the appearance of the system, based on which they could then make even further advancements in learning more about it.
With the help of the Hubble Space Telescope, even clearer images were obtained in 2003. These provided the astronomers with a bow tie or hourglass shape along with its distinct blue light, thus contributing even more to the study and research being conducted.
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) telescope is located in the Atacama desert in Chile. Using its ability to observe and capture electromagnetic radiation, it was found that the Boomerang Nebula not only has its double lobes of gas but also has some more cold gas that forms a sphere-like shape around the lobes.
This tends to contribute to the temperatures of the nebula. This discovery was possible only due to the submillimeter readings. Several other properties of this system were also discovered.
Using the same ALMA telescope, astronomers went on to discover in 2017 that the nebula actually comprises a central red giant, as a result of which the expulsion of mass and matter is continuing to take place. They also found that the rate of expulsion is also incredibly high.
Temperatures In The Coldest Place
Now that you know about the location and appearance of the Boomerang Nebula, you can move on to understanding the actual temperatures of the coldest place in the universe.
For reference, it is important to understand that the temperature is measured based on the thermodynamic scale, which situates the lowest possible temperature on the scale as zero Kelvin. This measures around -273.15°C, or -459.67°F.
Interestingly, the temperatures in the Boomerang Nebula come extremely close to zero Kelvin, being only a degree higher. To be precise, the temperature here measures one Kelvin, which amounts to -272.15°C or -457.87°F.
This makes it colder than the rest of space itself, with no other known planetary body having such low temperatures so far. In fact, even the Big Bang’s background radiation and light/glow, which has a temperature of -270°C, falls short compared to the Boomerang Nebula.
While this does not make it the end-all lowest temperature in the universe, it certainly holds this status currently and for the foreseeable future unless other discoveries come into existence.
The temperature of the Boomerang Nebula itself may also undergo several changes based on how the expansion and expulsion process continues to take place.
What Makes This Place So Cold?
What exactly causes the Boomerang Nebula to be so cold, even colder than space and the radiation from the Big Bang? It is important to look into the discoveries, structure and properties of the Boomerang Nebula to understand the reasons behind the low temperatures.
Let’s take a detailed look into some of these causes below.
Protoplanetary Nebular Status
The Boomerang Nebula is a protoplanetary or preplanetary nebula. This astronomical system is, therefore, going through a rapid rate of evolution, making this particular stage fall between that of a red giant and the final stage of a star, called the planetary nebula.
What this means is that the red giant continues to collapse in on itself while also emitting plenty of infrared radiation, causing it to reflect the light of other nearby stars and bodies.
The nebula, starting to exhaust its fuel, causes it to get rid of its outermost layers, making it enter the planetary stage, which marks the end of its life cycle.
Central Red Giant
Initially, the structure and characteristics of the Boomerang Nebula were not clearly known. Due to the findings of the ALMA telescope, it was found that the structure is a combination of a star in the system with a red giant.
As a result of this kind of ‘joining of forces’, so to speak, the matter that was a part of the red giant began to flow outward due to the pressure of the star. This can help explain the cold temperatures due to the loss of heat that occurs with this kind of outflow.
Moreover, through the impact of the stellar wind, the appearance of the nebula ends up becoming more circular and spherical, as is what the telescopes noted.
Expulsion of Mass
The mass present in the nebular structure of this reflective cloud tends to expel the mass, including large amounts of dust and gas, out into space from the internal structure of the system.
As a result of the expulsion of such vast quantities of gas, the temperature inside the cloud goes on decreasing, which is why the temperature here is so low.
Further, while it might seem that the glow seen from the telescope is a result of this kind of emission and infrared radiation, it is actually only because of the surrounding lights reflected through the dust.
The absence of this actual light makes it even cooler, at least until the planetary nebular stage begins.
If the outflow and expulsion were only taking place slowly, the temperatures would have been much warmer inside the Boomerang Nebula. However, as a result of the rapid rate at which this outflow is taking place, it becomes much easier for it to maintain its exceedingly low temperatures.
In fact, the Boomerang Nebula has been expelling this kind of material at a rapid rate for the past 1,500 years, with the gases expelled also going on to expand considerably. This rate is ten times faster than any other star in the universe.
The gases expelled tend to travel out at a speed of around 93 miles per second or 150 km per second. A part of this kind of speed can be explained due to the presence of nearby stars who also produce a gravitational force due to their closeness.
Overall, these determining factors can help maintain the cold temperatures of the nebula. However, with further discoveries and its continued evolution, there might be potential changes in this temperature.
Future of the Boomerang Nebula
Where exactly is the Boomerang Nebula headed in the future? What form will it take as it continues to evolve in its life cycle and expels vast quantities of material? Will this kind of expulsion ever stop and will such cold temperatures continue to characterize the Boomerang Nebula?
There are still plenty of developments being made and found when it comes to this preplanetary nebula. As more and more images and records of it come to the astronomers, the more are they likely to find out new things about it.
Based on its current form, however, it is clear that the Boomerang Nebula will end up evolving into a planetary nebula, where it will keep emitting even more gas that will continue to expand. This gas, however, is also likely to emit its own glow and color as a result of infrared radiation.
This is something that the current version of the nebula cannot do. Instead, it relies on the light from other stars to become visible. The ejected mass will also become ionized as a result of ultraviolet light. This stage, however, is bound to take several millennia to occur.
Based on what the 2017 ALMA images show, however, astronomers have found that the outer layers of this nebula are now beginning to become warmer than before, even though the overall temperature still remains the coldest in the universe.
This kind of warming up can be a result of the photoelectric effect, in which the electromagnetic radiation hits the solid surface and causes it to emit more electrons. This can be a way of indicating that the process is moving a bit further along slowly and steadily.
An equilibrium will also end up becoming established once all the internal matter and gas are expelled out, resulting in a further increase in the temperature, which will no longer make it the coldest place in the universe.
This, therefore, points towards the rare occurrence of this phenomenon, especially given the large gaps in time that take the structure from one phase to another.
Achieving Colder Temperatures
Although the coldest temperature in the universe is a part of the Boomerang Nebula, this is only based on natural occurrences. Is it possible to achieve colder temperatures as a result of technological and scientific experiments and advancements?
Research conducted by a team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) succeeded in cooling sodium gas to half-a-billionth of a degree more than absolute zero, setting the record as the coldest temperature ever achieved.
This was done in the year 1995, following which many other institutes around the world have gone on to achieve this temperature.
This also led to the discovery of a new kind of matter that went on to be called the Bose-Einstein condensate, in which the particles are a bit denser and more unified as compared to particles that usually move around on their own.
What Does This Imply?
This can go on to have several impacts on how the storage and usage of such gases can work, a matter which is still being researched by various institutions around the world.
Despite this kind of colder temperature that is now common to achieve, it remains impossible to go even beyond this temperature. Additionally, when it comes to a steady and constant state of such cold temperatures over a long period of time, the naturally existing and evolving Boomerang Nebula is what takes the cake.
With further research, it might be possible for newer discoveries to be made in terms of the scope of the universe, especially since we only know about a fraction of it. This might reveal another coldest place too.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does The Boomerang Nebula Measure 0 Kelvin?
Boomerang Nebula does not measure 0 Kelvin, although it is only a degree short of it. This is interesting because nothing else in the universe has naturally come as close to this.
Is Absolute Zero Possible?
Absolute zero is the lowest possible temperature that the thermodynamic scale can measure. Absolute zero generally refers to zero Kelvin, which amounts to -273.15°C, or -459.67°F.
This kind of temperature might be possible in space (although no part of space has managed to reach absolute zero yet), but it is not exactly possible to achieve due to the amount of effort required. Even naturally, however, this can be an extremely rare occurrence.
How Cold Is It In Space?
Space itself is extremely cold, being only a couple of degrees more than absolute zero and around one degree more than the temperature in the Boomerang Nebula. Space is, therefore, around 2.725 Kelvin. However, there are several parts of space that have different temperatures depending on their properties and their location.
Conclusion and Summary
It is clear that the coldest place in the universe is currently the Boomerang Nebula, which is found in the Centaurus constellation as many as 5,000 light-years from Earth. It is only one degree more than absolute zero, carrying a temperature of approximately -458°F.
First discovered and noticed in the year 1980, Boomerang Nebula continues to expel gas, mass and other materials from its outermost layers, causing it to lose heat and remain at an extremely low temperature.
Over time, it is possible for other places in the universe to reach such cold temperatures, surpassing even the Boomerang Nebula.