The Hottest Temperature on Earth Was Recorded in Death Valley Last Year

·4 min read
  • Death Valley, California recorded a temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit on August 16, 2020 and again on June 17, 2021.

  • Once the World Meteorological Organization verifies the reading, it will be the hottest global temperature ever recorded.

  • Death Valley is so hot thanks to a mix of geography, a lack of water, and blistering heat.

Summers can be hot in Death Valley, California. In fact, it is likely the hottest place on Earth—ever. Especially on Sunday, August 16 and—again—on June 17, 2021. The mercury spiked to a sweltering 130 degrees Fahrenheit in the national park, drawing crowds of tourists who flocked to take pictures with the park’s digital thermometer.

Photo credit: PATRICK T. FALLON - Getty Images
Photo credit: PATRICK T. FALLON - Getty Images

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) confirmed the 130-degree temperature in 2020 as the hottest temperature ever reliably recorded. (At the very least, it will go down as the hottest temperature ever recorded in August.)

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“Reliably recorded” is the key phrase when it comes to the hottest place on Earth. On July 10, 1913, the mercury at Furnace Creek in Death Valley, California, spiked to 134 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the WMO. To this day, it is often cited as the highest temperature recorded on Earth, but is debated by some in the meteorological community. Some have argued that instruments at the time weren’t reliable enough to have accurately recorded such temperatures.

A previous record of 136.4 degrees Fahrenheit, recorded in 1922 in El Azizia, Libya, was disqualified 90 years later, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. The organization noted that the record could have been off by as much as seven degrees due to the type of surface it was recorded on. (By the way, Dallol, Ethiopia, has been dubbed as the hottest regularly inhabited place on Earth.)

Why is Death Valley so hot?

Photo credit: David McNew - Getty Images
Photo credit: David McNew - Getty Images

Air temperatures often jump to around 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and that’s all thanks to geography, a lack of water, and blistering heat, according to the National Park Service. Less than two inches of rain falls in the valley on average each year, leaving the plants and animals that live there parched. The Sun’s rays bake the valley, which dips 282 feet below sea level and is surrounded by mountain ranges on all sides.

Here’s how Death Valley reaches these sweltering temperatures as the hottest place on Earth: Hot air in Death Valley rises and trapped by the surrounding mountain ranges. It cools and falls back into the valley, where it is compressed and heated by air pressure found at such low elevations. Death Valley may have the hottest recorded air temperature on Earth, but there are other hot spots on Earth.

Photo credit: DANIEL SLIM - Getty Images
Photo credit: DANIEL SLIM - Getty Images

Temperatures in the colorful geothermal pools at Yellowstone National Park, for instance, can spike to over 250 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the national park’s website. Hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean spit out liquids that can reach temperatures of over 750 degrees Fahrenheit, according to National Geographic. Some organisms—extremophiles—have adapted to live life in these severe environments.

The temperature of Earth’s core is about 11,000 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Discover magazine. How exactly do scientists measure this? Earth has a solid iron inner core and a liquid iron outer core. The boundary between the two is expected to be the temperature at which pressurized iron melts. To estimate this number, scientists placed a tiny piece of iron between two diamond points, heated up the experiment and squeezed. To get the precise temperature, they measured how x-rays trained on the spec of iron were diffracted.

What about the hottest temperatures in the solar system? To find that, you’d have to travel all the way to the Sun’s core, which scientists estimate could tip the mercury at around 15 million Kelvin—that’s roughly 26 million degrees Fahrenheit. Looking for a planetary heat source? Jupiter’s core, according to researchers, can reach temperatures of around 30,000 Kelvin, or about 53,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Surprisingly, the hottest temperature in the universe can be found a lot closer to home. Just outside of Geneva, Switzerland, scientists and engineers at the Large Hadron Collider have been smashing atoms together in a slew of incredible experiments. Temperatures inside these chambers have reached an astounding 7.2 trillion degrees Fahrenheit, according to Inside Science News Service. That’s hot!

Our planet is only getting warmer, and records are sure to break in the coming years. We’ll be keeping an eye on the mercury to see how high it jumps.

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