Deep space is the coldest place in the universe

Not really. The coldest place in the universe is in a cozy laboratory right here on Earth.

Remember, temperature is a measure of motion. If something is hot its atoms are moving fast. Add more heat and they go faster. There's no upper limit. But there is a lower limit to cold because you can slow atoms only so far. Eventually they stop. At that point the motionless atoms are as cold as they can get. This is called absolute zero and occurs at -459 degrees Fahrenheit.

There's nothing in nature that cold. Even the likeliest candidates, objects in remote, dark corners of the universe, are warmed by heat left from the creation of the universe. This ambient energy pervades the cosmos insuring that temperatures in nature normally don't drop below 5 degrees above absolute zero.

There's only been one exception found so far. The temperature of the Boomerang Nebula, 5,000 light-years from Earth, is about 1 degree above absolute zero. It's that cold because it's in a "natural refrigerator" formed by gas outflowing from a star at its core. Expanding gas cools: it cools your freezer, and it cools this nebula.

But to get colder than about 1 degree above absolute zero we have to return to earth. Here, in labs, temperatures lower than 1/1000 degree above absolute zero have been created for over twenty years. But recently scientists took a big step when they cooled atoms down to only a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero, creating the coldest spot in the universe!

Why are they going to the trouble? Atoms that frigid have essentially no electrical resistance and can be packed together much more closely than normal. So, hoping to use these characteristics, scientists envision "cryogenic computers" with storage and processing speeds unheard of today.



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