Mad About Science: Hot Stuff

By Brenden Bobby
Reader Columnist
Sponsored by the Sandpoint Library

If you’re reading this article with dire anticipation to procure your next pick-up line at the bar, you might be in luck.

I mean, probably not, but stranger things have been said that didn’t end with a slap in the face!

Heat is important for just about everything. It’s related to energy, which lets things move and do work, which is important when you want to build a house or not be frozen in place for eternity. We all encounter sources of heat every day, from the truck heater that takes a solid 20 miles to offer a refreshing gasp of dusty warm air to the sun boring a hole through your face at midday.

In your average livable area, a comfortable temperature for most people is about 73F. It’s not really hot, but it’s not really cold, either.

Meanwile, inside of our bodies, it’s a balmy 98.6F, unless you’re running a wicked fever. Then you should probably go see a doctor.

How about some hot things?

An ideal campfire for making s’mores is about 1,571F. That’s like the inside of your body 16 times over. All to make some delicious golden brown (or charred husks of) marshmallows!

That also means you can use your campfire to melt lead, which has a melting point of 621F. Not that you should, because if you happen to inhale even some of it, it can poison you indefinitely.

If you are trying to melt a penny (which is another bad idea considering that’s sort of illegal and all), you’ll need a bigger fire. Copper won’t melt until 1,984F.

Big Brother is watching. For science!

Ever wonder how hot lava is?

When it’s erupting, fresh from the source, it’s about 2,192F. You could drop a copper ingot into the mouth of a volcano and it would melt like a stick of butter.

I don’t really know what would happen if you threw a stick of butter into a volcano, but I’m pretty sure it would be momentarily awesome.

If you had to guess, which do you think would be hotter: the surface of the sun, or the Earth’s core?

Surprisingly, the one closer to home is quite a bit hotter than the surface of the sun.

While the surface of the sun seethes a warm 10,000F, the Earth’s core burns around 10,832F.

Though really, at those kinds of temperatures, it’s just like a couple of teenagers measuring how much their mustaches have grown.

Know what’s even crazier? Humans have made fire (and raw heat) at even higher temperatures at ground level on Earth.

The fireball of a nuclear bomb can get to be around 18,032 degrees Fahrenheit, hot enough to boil Tungsten, the element with the highest melting point of 6,192F, and a boiling point of 10,706F.

Wondering what the difference there is?

Ice melts above 32F, changing from a solid to a liquid: Water.

Water boils at 212F, changing from a liquid to a gas.

Tungsten, in case you weren’t aware, is a metal.

Even more awesome than that is that some industrial arc welders can create temperatures up to 30,000 degrees, carving metal like a katana (samurai sword) through a single sheet of paper.

We’re not done!

Ever wonder how hot a supernova can be? You’re about to find out.

The gas from a supernova can be heated to a temperature of at least 99,000,000F. It’s hot enough to fuse basic atoms into incredibly dense structures like uranium or tungsten. I mean, pressure plays into a huge part of that equation, but we’re focusing on heat here, and boy is there a lot of heat.

If you were standing on Earth as a star went supernova, you wouldn’t feel anything. You wouldn’t even see anything. By the time the heat, light and energy hit you, your atoms would be instantly scattered and reformed into a superheated gas.

Just don’t try that one at the bar.

“Girl, you’re so hot you make me gassy.”

Whelp, that’s probably the hottest thing you can think of. I mean, an explosion that engulfs an entire star system: It doesn’t get hotter than that, right?


It gets WAY hotter than that!

We’ve MADE way hotter than that!

We’re awesome physics-wrecking monsters, we humans. We see a bar and we don’t just raise it, we throw it as high as we can, and when that’s not high enough, we use science to strap rockets to the bar and launch it into orbit.

LHC, the Large Hadron Collider. Remember when we were all stupid and went: “Eeeek, they made black holes. The entire Earth is going to get sucked into one and I’ll never see who wins ‘Survivor!’”?

We should’ve been awed, instead, by the ridiculous temperatures they created inside the collider by smashing lead ions together.

Lead, one of the more dull elements you can name (How many times have you used the insult “you’re denser than lead?”), with a meager melting point of 621F. Our stupid campfire could melt the stuff.

It turns out when we smash lead atoms together at incredible speeds, we can create some pretty awesome temperatures.

How awesome?




Ha! Lead ions laugh at your puny heat levels. Lead smash!

We’re talking 9,900,000,000,000 degrees freaking Fahrenheit.

That’s Trillion with a T.

Yep, we made that. Because Science.

What’s even crazier is that’s not even remotely close to the upper limits of heat. Physics doesn’t even start breaking down until 1,420-followed-by-30-zeroes degrees Celsius. Which, for the record, is called Planck Temperature or unofficially: Absolute Hot.

If you’re still reading this article looking for your next pick-up line before Valentine’s Day, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you:

“You’re hot enough to melt Tungsten… And my heart.”

“You’re so hot, they should be studying you at the LHC!”

“The only thing hotter than you is Planck Temperature. Oh, my mistake.”

If any of this terrible cheesiness gets you a date, you owe me a stick of butter and a volcano.

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