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EarthSky // Today's Image Release Date: Dec 11, 2013

Coldest place in the universe

The ghostly Boomerang Nebula, coldest known place in the universe, reveals its true shape in this image from the giant ALMA radio telescope.

Image credit:  NASA/JPL

Image credit: NASA/JPL

The Boomerang Nebula is a protoplanetary nebula located 5,000 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Centaurus. Researchers took the nebula’s temperature with the Atacama Large Millimeter/Submillimeter Array (ALMA) and learned it is a frigid minus 458 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 272 degrees Celsius).

That makes the Boomerang Nebula the coldest natural place known in the universe.

The Boomerang Nebula is believed to be a star system evolving toward the planetary nebula phase. A planetary nebula has nothing to do with planets. It’s a phase of life for older stars, when they slough off their outer layers, creating a cloud or nebula around the star. In the Boomerang, millimeter-scale dust grains mask portions of the nebula’s center so most escaping visible light is in two opposing lobes forming a distinctive hourglass shape as viewed from Earth. The outflowing gas is moving outwards at a speed of about 164 km/s and expanding rapidly as it moves out into space.

This gas expansion results in the nebula’s unusually low temperature.

Read more: The coldest place in the universe

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