Five Times as Cold

So, today we were talking about how there is no such thing as "twice as slow," or, "twice as cold." This idiom is a favorite pet peeve of mine, because it is so utterly meaningless, yet when someone says it, you somehow know exactly what they mean. They simply mean, "Dang! It's really cold today." Or, "Dude, you are reeeaallly moving slow, even compared to that other slow guy!"

As we progressed down our conversational rabbit hole—with Google at our side—someone noted, "Hey. You guys wanna know what the coldest place in the universe is? It's the Bowtie Nebula." This of course instantiated a whirlwind of cosmological research on my part, resulting in my present impressive body of knowledge on the Bowtie Nebula. Turns out, some guys in Australia, and some guys in Chile (and maybe Brazil and Sweden; or Norway… whatever) have been looking real close at the thing, taking a lot of measurements and stuff. And yeah: it's cold, alright; like half a degree Celsius above absolute zero. "Dude, that's cold," I flatly stated.

Now, another [not only fascinating, but overarchingly important] morsel of information which I have added to my arsenal of cosmological knowledge as a result of this intensive study is this: that space itself, in most places, is about 2 to 2.5 degrees C above absolute zero (that's 2 to 2.5 Kelvin, for the uninitiated).

So our collective conclusion was really quite unavoidable, looking at it in retrospect. We all agreed that the Bowtie Nebula is, like, four or five times as cold as space. There's really no way around it, mathematically speaking.

But that's when I was suddenly able to offer a notable debunk… "Well," I said, "since the Bowtie Nebula is 5,000 light years away, you don't really know that. All you know is that five thousand years ago, it was that cold. It could have totally warmed up by now."

So if we're going to find the coldest known place today, we're going to have to look a lot closer to home. Even checking out Pluto (a likely candidate, I think), we'll still only know how cold it was about eight hours ago. That's pretty current, though, since I doubt it's changing very fast…

Turns out, Pluto's temp during its cold season is about 40 Kelvin. That's like, twenty times as hot as space. Still, you could build some pretty impressive super-conducting coils up there—with no refrigeration required! Cool, huh? Very.

My mind is reeling with ideas. 

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