Science and Tech


NASA To Make ISS Experiment The Coldest Place In Universe

An experiment on the International Space Station will reach the lowest known temperature in an attempt to understand ultra-cold atomic behavior.
Posted at 8:06 PM, Feb 04, 2014

A new project by NASA aims to make a container on board the International Space Station into the coldest place in the known universe.

It's called the Cold Atom Laboratory — makes sense to me — and it will help physicists study a strange form of ultra-cold matter. (Via NASA)

When atoms cool down, their movement slows until they basically stop moving at absolute zero, about -459.7 degrees Fahrenheit. Physicists have been competing for years to achieve lower and lower temperatures. (Via Wikimedia Commons / Greg L)

NASA's new project will use lasers to cool atoms down to 100 pikokelvins. That's about one trillionth of one degree above absolute zero, and will tie the record for coldest temperature ever created in a lab, set by Finnish researchers in 1999.

Scientists will then be able to study a unique form of matter called Bose-Einstein condensates, gasses which stop acting like individual atoms and start merging into a quantum wavelength at those temperatures. (Via NASA)

Sound weird? Well, that's why they want to study it. And they're studying it on the ISS because, without as much gravity to contend with, it's much easier to cool and examine the gasses.

In case you were wondering, the coldest naturally occurring temperatures ever recorded were found in the Boomerang Nebula, an area of expanding, cooling gas that's around 1 Kelvin. (Via

You might think empty space itself would be as cold as it gets, but it turns out the entire universe is permeated with leftover heat from the Big Bang, so empty space averages about 3 Kelvin.