If you think this is bad, go to Vostok


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.


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


The usual temperature of a domestic freezer


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


Freezing point of 80 proof vodka


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


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


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


Temperature of the Boomerang Nebula measured by astronomers in Chile


Absolute Zero

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