Chilean observatory finds the coldest place in space
This Sept. 13, 2005, NASA handout image shows the Boomerang Nebula taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope with the Advanced Camera for Surveys. [AFP]

The coldest place in the universe -- just one degree above absolute zero, the temperatures at which all atoms freeze -- is the Boomerang Nebula, astronomers in Chile said Wednesday.

It is about 5,000 light years away in the Centaurus constellation, the scientists at the ALMA observatory said.

The nebula is "colder, in fact, than the faint afterglow of the Big Bang, which is the natural background temperature of space," the statement explained.

It runs a temperature of one degree Kelvin (-272 degrees Celsius or -458 degrees Fahrenheit), making it "the coldest known object in the universe," the ALMA said.

The Boomerang Nebula is a relatively young planetary nebula, which is a glowing shell of ionized gas ejected from the outer layers of a sun-like star in its final stages.

It is expanding rapidly, and using up energy in the process, creating a cooling effect, permitting it to stay colder than the temperatures around it.

The image was captured by the Atacama Large Millimeter-submillimeter Array -- ALMA -- a telescope installed on a plateau 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) high in the Atacama desert, where almost no humidity or vegetation to block its view of the heavens.

The installation is a joint effort among North American, European and Asian agencies.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]