Below Absolute Zero?

It is, apparently, possible to have temperatures in negative Kelvin.

As old as I am and as long as I’ve been reading about physics, I’ve always shied away from Quantum Physics, just because no matter what I did it confused me. I understand this is true for everybody but still, I felt I grasped Newton almost perfectly, Einstein reasonably well, and Quantum physics not at all.

One thing I always had trouble wrapping my brain around, for some reason, is that heat is not its own form of energy, which my brain wanted it to be. I know this is High School stuff but for whatever reason it bothered me, and accepting that heat is just another form of motion, another form of kinetic energy if you will, bothered me. It’s not that I didn’t, or don’t, accept it, but my brain wanted it to be something else for some reason, its own totally uniquely discrete form of energy. Call it my own failing, as that’s almost certainly what it is and was. In any case, once I fully accepted that heat is just motion, period, then the idea that you could have something less than 0 Kelvin was self-evidently impossible. But now, apparently, it’s not impossible, and I’m going to have to spend time wrapping my head around that.

We think we understand the universe. But we don’t even understand a fraction of what we think we do, do we?

Support independent journalism

  • Dishman

    I think something is getting lost in translation to English. This appears to me to be an artifact of the math and language more than anything else.

    The Potassium atoms do not have a negative energy. It’s more that the distribution of energies is consistent with a negative temperature. That’s a language problem.

  • Sandi

    I have no idea on this, and an attempt to educate myself on Wiki gained little knowledge.

    In my layman’s vocabulary I had assumed that “absolute zero” was whatever the temperature is with the condition where you have the absence of all heat.

    Apparently that was a misconception.

  • Dean Esmay

    No heat = absolutely no atomic motion. That has been my understanding of it at the quantum level. My immediate thought was, “if you have negative motion, does that mean you’re going back in time?” I literally can’t fathom what this means.

    Dish is probably right it’s got something to do with math that’s beyond me, but I’d like to try to understand it.

  • Paul S.

    We think we understand the universe. But we don’t even understand a fraction of what we think we do, do we?

    If I had to pick a sentence that informs my world view on most every subject, it might be that one.

  • Sandi

    This explains it a bit better, but I still can’t get a good grasp of it.

    New Scientist