By use of a reduced model focusing on the in-plane dependence of plane Couette flow, it is shown that the turbulent-->laminar relaxation process can be understood as a nucleation problem similar to that occurring at a thermodynamic first-order phase transition. The approach, apt to deal with the large extension of the system considered, challenges the current interpretation in terms of chaotic transients typical of temporal chaos. The study of the distribution of the sizes of laminar domains embedded in turbulent flow proves that an abrupt transition from sustained spatiotemporal chaos to laminar flow can take place at some given value of the Reynolds number Rlow, whether or not the local chaos lifetime, as envisioned within low-dimensional dynamical systems theory, diverges at finite R beyond Rlow.
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