Friday, January 04, 2013

Physics: reaching impossible temperatures

It's sometimes said that the politics of the extreme right and the extreme left merge, creating a circle rather than a continuum.  Could the same be true of temperatures?
Well, no. When all atomic motion is stopped, absolute zero (0 Kelvin) is reached, and you can't go any further.
Only you can.
It turns out that a situation can be created where atoms are impossibly cold. At the same time, they are impossibly hot.  Negative temperatures - essentially temperatures for which the all-inclusive Kelvin scale does not exist - have been demonstrated in a lab.  Atoms in this state attract each other.  This state can only exist at negative pressure.  It is, in other words, impossibly weird.
In theory, this could one day be put to use, with engines that are more than 100% efficient.  Can's wrap your mind around that?  Me neither. Such engines would not only absord energy from hotter regions, but colder ones as well.  It's way off.  But it's only the beginning of theorizing about a realm we thought could not exist. 

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