The fifth largest continent on Earth, Antarctica, is covered in ice that has 1.9 kilometers average thickness which is also about 70% of the all the world’s fresh water. It is also the coldest, driest, windiest, and even the highest continent of all. Over the past few years, more than 4,000 scientists from various nations have been conducting research work, and they account for the most of the population there. Antarctica holds the record for hitting the lowest temperature mark more than three decades ago. It continues to have the lowest temperatures according to satellite readings, and here is more about it.
In July 1983, the Soviet Vostok Station in Antarctica recorded the world’s lowest ever natural temperature at ground level at −89.2 °C (−128.6 °F). In 2010, a NASA satellite remotely recorded a temperature of -94.7 °C (-135.8 °F) in eastern Antarctica.
Vostok Station, or “Station East” in Russian, is a Russian research station located in Princess Elizabeth Land and was founded by the Soviet Union in 1957. The station is considered one of the optimal places for studying changes in the Earth’s magnetosphere as it is located near the Geomagnetic Pole. It is also at 3,488 meters (11,444 feet) above sea level and is near the Southern Pole of Inaccessibility making it one of the most isolated research stations on Antarctica. Its location is also a reason for the extremely low temperature recorded on July 21, 1983, on the ground. The data analyzed by NASA’s satellite recorded a temperature of -94.7 °C (-135.8 °F) in August 2010 and -92.9 °C (-135.3 °F) on July 31, 2013, though these might not be considered to be the record for lowest temperatures because they were measured by remote satellites rather than ground-based equipment.
Low temperatures are essential in many applications such as scientific research, medicine, food, and electric power transmission. Cryogenic temperatures, especially, are of immense importance as they alter the properties of matter in ways that are theoretically and commercially important.
The study of cryogenics could be said to have started in 1665 when Robert Boyle discussed the possibility of an absolute minimum temperature in New Experiments and Observations Touching Cold. In 1702, French physicist Guillaume Amontons addressed the question of how low could the temperature go to be called “absolute zero” and calculated it to be equal to -240 °C, which is close to the modern value of −273.15 °C.
There is no clear definition of where refrigeration ends and cryogenics start. At normal or high temperatures, molecules are continuously moving and generating heat, but at cryogenic temperatures they become static, setting themselves in a highly ordered state. According to the US National Institute of Standards and Technology, temperatures below −180 °C (−292.00 °F) are considered cryogenic since the boiling point of permanent gases such as helium or hydrogen is below −180 °C, while the boiling point of gases used for refrigeration lies above it.
The record for lowest temperature of a large volume of material in the known universe was set in September 2014, when scientists cooled a copper vessel of one cubic meter volume to 0.006 kelvins (−273.144 °C or −459.659 °F) for 15 days.
In 1999, the current world record for lowest temperature was set at 100 picokelvins (10-10 kelvins) which is -273.149 °C or -459.669 °F. This was achieved by cooling the nuclear spins of a piece of rhodium metal. The Boomerang Nebula, located 5,000 light-years from Earth, was observed to be releasing gasses at a speed of 500,000 kilometers per hour for 1,500 years, which meant that it has cooled down to one kelvin, the lowest natural temperature in the observable universe.
In September 2014, scientists at CUORE, collaborating with the Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso, Italy, were able to cool down a copper vessel to 0.006 kelvins setting a record for the lowest temperature over such a large contiguous volume. In 2015, scientists at MIT were able to cool down the molecules in the gas of sodium potassium to 500 nanokelvins. An experimental instrument that is going to be launched to the International Space Station this year is believed to be able to achieve temperatures of 1 picokelvin in space and help explore unknown quantum mechanical phenomena.
While the lowest ground temperature on Earth was -89.2 °C, the highest natural ground surface temperature ever recorded was 93.9 °C (201 °F) at Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley, on July 15, 1972.
Usually, temperature is measured in the air 1.5 meters above the ground and shielded from direct sunlight. According to the World Meteorological Organization, the highest temperature measured that way was 56.7 °C (134.1 °F) as recorded on July 10, 1913, at Furnace Creek Ranch, located in the Death Valley desert in the US. Furnace Creek is situated 190 feet (58 meters) below the sea level, and one reason it reaches such high temperatures is that the air becomes warmer as it gets lower. In addition to that, there is less than three inches of rain each year. Furnace Creek Ranch holds the Guinness World Record for reaching 93.9 °C in 1972. In 2005, Lut Desert in Iran recorded 70.7 °C (159.3 °F) as measured by the MODIS infrared spectroradiometer on the Aqua satellite.