The universe is freezing. In spots like the Boomerang Nebula, the temperature drops all the way down to one degree Kelvin (-272.15C). But if NASA scientists have their way, the known universe will have a new coldest place, and it’s going to be inside the International Space Station.
The Cold Atom Lab will be an atomic refrigerator that aims to push temperatures down to unstudied depths of 100 pico-Kelvin. That is to say, one 10-billionth of a degree above absolute zero, at which point matter’s movement stops entirely. In theory anyway. At these ridiculously frigid temperatures, matter should stop being a gas, liquid or solid, and instead opt to assume totally quantum state of being. How could you not want to study that?
Unfortunately, we’ll all have to wait a bit. The science module for the Cold Atom Lab isn’t due to get shot up into orbit until 2016, and because of the pesky effects of gravity, it won’t do much good down here. But expect some awesome results once it’s in action. Probably almost as magical as zero-gravity cloth wringing. [ScienceAtNASA via Geek]