The Coldest Temperature Ever Observed on Earth Is Bonkers

Illustration for article titled The Coldest Temperature Ever Observed on Earth Is Bonkers
Photo: AP

As one might expect, the desolate and remote East Antarctic Plateau is home to Earth’s coldest temperatures. What is surprising, however, is that these bitter temps are even colder than previously thought—reaching nearly -148 degrees Fahrenheit (-100 degrees Celsius).

That’s according to an updated analysis of satellite data first reported in 2013. At the time, scientists reported observing temperatures of -135 degrees Fahrenheit (-93 degrees Celsius)—already the coldest temperatures ever observed on Earth. The new analysis, which used data collected by NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites and NOAA’s Polar Operational Environmental Satellites during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter between 2004 and 2016, turned up even lower lows within small pockets buried six to nine feet deep in the ice surface on the southern side of Antarctica’s frigid high ridges.

Clear winter skies and bone-dry air create the ideal weather conditions for fostering these frigid temperatures. Since cold air is denser than the warmer air above it, it moves downwards, collecting in hollows and getting even colder still if conditions are favorable.


This new record reminds us that we’re still discovering some basic things about our planet, including exactly how cold it can get. As lead study author Ted Scambos of the the National Snow and Ice Data Center noted in a press release, the revised temperatures are likely bumping up against that limit: clear skies and dry air need to persist several days to reach these unfathomable lows. When temperatures fall below a certain point, the air cools more slowly; weather conditions change before even lower temperatures can be reached.

That’s probably for the best, because it’s unlikely even a Tauntaun could survive long in these conditions.

I was born a while ago and now I'm here. Pretty rad.

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Dense non aqueous phase liquid

This work by snow and ice doesn’t seem to align with NOAA’s new mission:

Old mission:

NOAA’s mission, the agency says, is “to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.”

New mission under MAGA:

But in a presentation at a Commerce Department “Vision Setting Summit” this month, Rear Adm. Timothy Gallaudet, the agency’s acting administrator, suggested a change to that mission statement, as well as a new emphasis on tripling the size of the U.S. aquaculture industry within a decade and moving to “reduce the seafood trade deficit.”

The new NOAA mission, the presentation said, would be “to observe, understand and predict atmospheric and ocean conditions, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to protect lives and property, empower the economy, and support homeland and national security.”

Timothy Gallaudet sounds like one of those academy squids that’s been suckling off big gubmint teats their whole life.