If you saw our show on the beginnings of planet Earth, you’ll know that we’ve been heating up and cooling down for millions of years, but the scientific community agrees on one thing, and that’s the assumption that the planet will one day burn out completely. This is because the sun itself heats up a little bit over millions and millions of years, and so at some point it will become so hot it’ll dry up our oceans and then pretty much toast the surface of the Earth. Everything will be long dead by then except for maybe some amazing tiny creatures, only for the sun to finally consume our dear planet in its fiery heart. We might be a few billion years away from that scenario, but many have wondered how hot things can actually get? That’s the subject of today’s episode of the Infographics Show, Hottest Recorded Temperatures on Earth.
We are going to discuss recorded temperatures, which means of course that we can talk about records that were made when we had the instruments that could measure temperature. Prior to modern instruments, Italian scientist Galileo Galilei had used something called a thermoscope, but this didn’t have a proper scale of measurement and so it could only tell you that a change had taken place in temperature. It wasn’t until 1714 that we had a reliable form of measuring heat changes, and that was thanks to a Dutch scientist and inventor called Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit. You’ve probably heard his name before, as you have the name of a Swedish astronomer who was called Anders Celsius. Nowadays just about all the world uses the measurement of Celsius (the same meaning as centigrade) and only a few countries use Fahrenheit. That includes the United States, and in the UK they are kind of divided. There isn’t much difference of course, except that Celsius measures the freezing point at 0 degrees and boiling point at 100 degrees. Fahrenheit measures freezing at 32 degrees and the boiling point at 212 degrees. American publications have many times written stories on how Fahrenheit gives a more accurate reading of air temperature, but it seems the rest of world is having none of it.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can tell you that the hottest the world has ever been in terms of the state of the atmosphere was long before humans ever appeared. It’s thought that when the Earth was forming and bits of rock were still sticking to it, it was around 3600 degrees Fahrenheit (1982 Celsius). It’s thought that during the Neoproterozoic period – 1,000 to 541 million years ago – the Earth heated up at one point so that the average global temperature was about 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32.2 Celsius) compared to today’s average of 60 degrees Fahrenheit (15.5 Celsius). During this period and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum period – extreme global warming about 55 million years ago – there would have been constant fires, and life for us would have been hard if not impossible. This brings us to temperatures we’ve actually recorded.
Let’s start with the weather. The hottest ever temperature recorded, according to the Guinness Book of Records, was in the aptly named Death Valley in Eastern California. On one July day in 1913, the temperature there was 134 degrees Fahrenheit (56.7 degrees Celsius). Death Valley remains hot most of the time, and there are a few more places on Earth that are renowned for their scorching heat. Aziziyah, Libya, is still said to have regular summer temperatures of around 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 degrees Celsius). It actually held the record for the hottest place on Earth when in 1922 someone recorded a temperature of 136.4 degrees Fahrenheit (58 degrees Celsius) only for that title to be stripped as experts said the number could not be professionally verified. Many scientists also doubt the Death Valley recording. The next few places all have regular summer temperatures of over 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius), and are considered the hottest places on this planet: Dallol, Ethiopia; Wadi Halfa, Sudan; Dasht-e Loot, Iran; Tirat Zvi, Israel; Timbuktu, Mali; and Kebili, Tunisia. You’ll also know, having been there, that 2016 was a really hot year in many places on the planet. The Atlantic reported last year that, “Iraq and Kuwait recorded land temperatures of roughly 129 degrees Fahrenheit (54 degrees Celsius).” Many people agree with American folk singer Andrew Bird when he sang “It’s starting to get warm in here and things are starting to get strange.” The coldest temperature ever recorded by the way was in Antarctica in 2010, when the scale hit -135.8 degrees Fahrenheit (-94.7 degrees Celsius).
Things can of course get a lot hotter on Earth depending on where you are standing. When an Earth and Environment scientist was asked on a science forum how hot it would be standing inside an erupting volcano, his reply was that he didn’t know because any kind of measuring instrument would melt. As for the lava, the stuff that comes out of a volcano, the scientist said that it can reach 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit (1,000 degrees Celsius). He added that sometimes the lava is much cooler, or even as hot as 2,192 degrees Fahrenheit (1,200 degrees Celsius). It just depends on which volcano you are sitting in, but one thing we know is that as far as naturally occurring substances on Earth, it’s about as hot as we can get. You might be wondering how we can measure such heat, as it would melt anything we used as an instrument. The answer is by using something called a thermocouple. This device measures “the electrical resistance at the point where two wires of different composition join.” While lava is the hottest thing we have down here that naturally occurs, something that comes from above is even hotter. This is lightning, and it can reach temperatures of 54,032 degrees Fahrenheit (30,000 degrees Celsius).
Scientists, however, have created temperatures much hotter than lava and lightning. In fact, they believe they created temperatures hotter than the heat that existed when the universe was formed. While working at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland in 2011, scientists generated temperatures of more than 7.2 trillion degrees Fahrenheit (1.6 trillion degrees Celsius). That’s kind of mind-bending, but it’s about 100,000 times hotter than the surface of the Sun. It’s actually quite complex if you want to know how they did it, but one professor in an interview said, “This state of matter doesn’t exist anywhere naturally on Earth and is thought to only now occur during the collision of two neutron stars.” So, that’s the hottest thing we’ve ever created.
Sticking with the futuristic theme, one place you wouldn’t want to be standing is underneath one of NASA’s space shuttles as it takes off. According to NASA’s website, the main combustion chamber on a rocket will reach something like 6,000 degrees Fahrenheit (3,315 degrees Celsius).
Let’s now have a look at some of the things we use or see in everyday life. Your regular old household oven will reach temperatures of around 350–375 degrees Fahrenheit (180–190 degrees Celsius). A very hot oven for cooking may reach 450 degrees Fahrenheit (230 degrees Celsius). A blast furnace on the other hand, which we might use for smelting to produce metals, has to have a very high temperature. Reading the website Mining Weekly, you can find out quite a lot about furnaces. One of the biggest furnaces in the world, and the biggest in Europe, is called the Schwelgern 2. This beast can produce temperatures of up to 3,632 degree Fahrenheit (2,000 degrees Celsius). Much cooler is a regular wood fire that we might roast some marshmallows on. You know the hottest part of the flame by its color, with orange-yellow being the hottest part of the fire. How hot it gets also depends on what kind of wood you are burning, but a well-stocked large wood fire can reach temperatures of around 2,012 degrees Fahrenheit (1,100 degrees Celsius). Throw charcoal on that fire and it will get even hotter. A very small piece of wood on fire is a match, and they usually burn at about 1,112-1,472 degrees Fahrenheit (600-800 degrees Celsius). If you lit a cigarette with that match, you can expect it to burn at 950-1,150 degrees Fahrenheit (510-621 degrees Celsius).
Well, that’s about all of the hottest things we can think of. Can you add some more? Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video called Earth Millions of Years Ago!