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ASK YOUR SCIENCE TEACHER

ASK YOUR SCIENCE TEACHER

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QUESTION: What is the lowest temperature ever recorded in Monroe County?

ANSWER: The lowest temperature in Monroe County was -48 degrees Fahrenheit at Sparta on Jan. 30, 1951, according to the Wisconsin State Climatology Office. Second lowest was at Valley Junction on Feb. 10, 1899, at -44 degrees Fahrenheit.

The lowest temperature ever recorded on Earth was -129 degrees Fahrenheit, on July 21, 1983, at Vostok, a Russian station in the Antarctic. Keep in mind that July is actually wintertime in the Southern Hemisphere.

The coldest temperature ever recorded in the United States was -80 degrees Fahrenheit at Prospect Creek, Alaska, on Jan 23, 1971. Prospect Creek is along the Alaskan oil pipeline and is right above the Arctic Circle.

The lowest temperature recorded in the contiguous 48 States was -70 degrees Fahrenheit at Rogers Pass in Montana on Jan. 20, 1954.

The coldest temperature ever recorded in Wisconsin was -55 degrees Fahrenheit on Feb. 4, 1996, at Couderay, which is about 30 miles east of Spooner in northern Wisconsin.

Temperature measures the average kinetic energy of molecules. The greater the motion or vibration of molecules in an object, the hotter it is. So outer space has no temperature because it is a vacuum. The few particles floating around out there would have a temperature of about 3 Kelvin, close to absolute zero.

The lowest possible temperature is termed absolute zero, which is -460 Fahrenheit or -273 Celsius. Scientists have come within a few hundredths of a degree of absolute zero in the laboratory. Physics and chemistry classes use liquid nitrogen to do labs and demonstrations. The temperature of liquid nitrogen is -320 Fahrenheit or -196 Celsius (centigrade). A constant-volume hollow stainless steel sphere is put in three different liquids; liquid nitrogen, ice water and boiling water, in addition to air. The pressure of the air inside the sphere is recorded. A graph of pressure vs. temperature is made and extrapolated to determine the value of absolute zero.

Liquid oxygen can be made by using liquid nitrogen. Liquid oxygen has a beautiful pale blue color. The external tank of the Space Shuttle contained a tank of liquid oxygen and a larger tank of liquid hydrogen. The two liquids were fed under pressure to the three RS-25 main engines.

Ice cream can be made using liquid nitrogen, and the behavior of materials, ranging from balloons, to flowers, to a rubber handball, can be studied in liquid nitrogen. Levitating a magnet above a supercold pellet is a powerful demonstration of superconductivity.

Here’s my favorite “how cold was it?” jokes:

  • “I let my dog out last night, and I had to go out and break him away from a tree.”
  • “We had to chop up the piano for firewood, but we only got two chords.”
  • “The mice were playing hockey in the toilet bowl.”
  • “The polar bears were buying fur coats.”

Larry Scheckel is a retired Tomah High School physics teacher.

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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