If you think this is bad, go to Vostok

Analysis

In the strictest scientific sense, there is no such thing as cold, only an absence of heat. But try telling that to anyone caught outside last night.

Heat is caused by the motion or oscillation of atoms and molecules. The more oscillation there is in the air or in an object, the more heat there is and the higher the temperature. There is a theoretical temperature low enough for this thermodynamic oscillation to cease altogether, and this is called absolute zero, which is -273.15C.

Nothing therefore should ever get "colder" (or less hot) than absolute zero. It is also the case that it is probably never possible to remove all heat from a given system, so that no matter however hard we might try, we will never actually get to observe anything that has reached that magic figure of -273.15C

Scientists at Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research in Geneva, have probably come closest to absolute zero in making the helium-filled magnets of the Large Hadron Collider. This superconducting technology has been measured as just 1.8C above absolute zero.

Vying for the status of the coldest place in the Universe is the Boomerang Nebula, some 5,000 light-years away from Earth in the Centaurus constellation. Astronomers using the European South Observatory telescopes in Chile have found that the temperature in this cosmic outpost can reach -272C, which is even colder than the background "glow" of the remnant radiation of the Big Bang.

The coldest natural place on Earth is the Russian Vostok station in Antarctica, which recorded -89.C in 1983, which is about 63C colder than the freezing point of 80 proof vodka. This station is not just in the middle of the Antarctic continent, it is also nearly 3,500 metres above sea level, where the air is thin and the thermodynamic oscillation of the atmosphere that much closer to absolute zero.

Spare a thought for those intrepid scientists who recorded this all-time low. When it gets that cold you need more than vodka to keep you warm.

0°C

Freezing point of pure water and the minimum temperature needed by most living organisms at some point in their life cycle

-18°C

The usual temperature of a domestic freezer

-22.3°C

Village of Altnaharra in the Scottish Highlands was the coldest in the UK yesterday

-26.95°C

Freezing point of 80 proof vodka

-27.2°C

Lowest UK temperature ever recorded, at Braemar in Grampian on 10 January 1982 and in Altnaharra in the Highlands on 11 February 1895

-89.2°C

The coldest natural place on Earth is the Russian Vostok station in Antarctica, 1983

-247°C

Temperature of the permanently shadowed craters of the lunar pole on the Moon

-272°C

Temperature of the Boomerang Nebula measured by astronomers in Chile

-273.15°C

Absolute Zero

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future