What's the Highest Temperature?

"I was wondering that as absolute zero temperature is I believe -273 degrees centigrade, is there an absolute maximum temperature? I know that there are massive temperatures in volcanic eruptions, atomic bombs, super novas etc but has anyone ever come up with an absolute maximum that could exist?" - Question posed by my dad.

Temperature is a measure of how much energy something has. The lowest energy something can have is none at all, and this point is theoretically reached at a temperature of -173.15° on the Celsius scale or, more sensibly, 0 on the Kelvin temperature scale. It's not possible for matter to have a colder temperature than this in the same way as it's not possible to have less than zero Smarties in a tube: you have to get rid of energy to decrease the temperature; at 0K there's no energy left to get rid of.

While I was researching some interesting temperatures to tell you about as we move up the thermometer, I came across this great video from the brilliant Vsauce team that does it all for you. One thing I do want to add is that if you're ever cold you should head into the corner because it's 363.15 K over there**.


It also tells you all about what I was going to tell you next, but I realise that some of you may not want to watch the whole video, so I'll cut to the chase:

There's no theoretical limit to the amount of energy we can throw at an object, but science has come up with a temperature that is the highest temperature that we can understand.

That temperature is a bit more than 1.41 x 1032 K. If you don't know what that means***, it's...

141,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 K ****

This massive, humongous temperature has its own name: it's called the Planck temperature, after Max Planck who also had a distance named after him*****. It's important because if you get any higher than this temperature... we don't know what happens. Matter stops acting like matter should because it's just too damned hot. There are those who think that if anything gets hot enough to reach the Planck temperature a black hole will be spontaneously created. This kind of black hole has a cool name: a kugelblitz.




** This is not true. It's a very, very bad maths joke. Please, please do a fellow utter geek a favour and share this post if you're one of the few people on the planet who will both get it and admit that they get it.
*** That notation is called "Standard Index Form," and knowledge of it is tested at GCSE level in UK mathematics curricular. If you're interested in astronomy it helps to be interested in maths too.
**** Which illustrates perfectly the point of Standard Index Form.
***** In fact, the Planck temperature, by way of some other science, comes as a result of the Planck distance, which is explained more fully in the Vsauce video above.

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