Moment of Science: Heat

Feel the burn!
How many zeroes do you think the hottest temperature possible has at the end of it? Dan Smith takes us all the way up the temperature scale!
Published: Nov. 9, 2021 at 4:55 PM EST
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If you can’t stand the heat... this Moment of Science may not be for you! Last week, we went all the way down the temperature scale to absolute zero, where all atomic motion stops... now, let’s get back to the freezing mark, get those molecules vibrating again, and go up from there... WAY up.

* Your refrigerator is a few degrees above freezing, so we may as well grab some snacks for the journey here. We usually say room temperature is around 70°F, so let’s get uncomfortable. The average body temperature is usually said to be 98.6°F, though new research has shown we run slightly cooler. Back to the atmosphere, our record high in Toledo is 105°F, and the warmest natural high temperature on earth was set in Death Valley in 1913 (56.7°C/134.1°F).

* Let’s switch to Celsius now, as a lot of our food and drink involves boiling water at 100°C... that’s about how hot the Moon gets during the day!

* Candle flames have a big range (600-1400°C), with some burning hotter than lava (1200°C).

* The surface of the sun is a classic milestone for heat, sizzling at 5500°C, but here comes the jump: the core can hit 15 million degrees! Supernovas laugh at those temperatures, upping the ante with 100 billion degrees.

* Last week, we mentioned that scientists this year created temperatures within 13 trillionths of a degree of absolute zero... going the other way involves trillions OF degrees (4 trillion °C / 7.2 trillion °F), thanks to colliding gold atoms and, quote, “melting protons and neutrons into a soup”.

* Unlike the cold end of the scale, we’re nowhere close to the theoretical hottest temperature possible: 1.41*10^32 °C That’s called the Planck temperature, where all known laws of physics would start to break down... and to save you the counting, that’s 142 followed by 30 zeroes -- or 142 nonillion degrees.

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