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Q & A: maximum temperature?

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Most recent answer: 06/03/2008
Q:
I have read your answer to temperatures of vacuums & maximum temperature, but is there a temperature at which atoms cannot exsist? If so would this be a maximum temperature? (my logic says if there is an absolute zero temperature there should also be an upper limit even if it can't exist in reality)
- Elaine Morgan (age 43)
Pontyclun, R. C. T. Wales
A:
Certainly when atoms are heated up they fall apart. That happens in the Sun, in plasmas here on Earth, and many other places. The general temperature range in which hydrogen atoms fall apart into charged particles, at typical concentrations, is around 5000K. (Room temperature is around 300K, on the absolute Kelvin scale.) I believe the temperature of the filament in an ordinary incandescent light bulb is around 3000K. In stars the temperature can be millions of K. In the early universe, there's strong evidence that the temperature was far higher just after the big bang.
There is a temperature range (very roughly a billion trillion trillion K) at which things would be going on which cannot be described using the currently known laws of physics. I can't say with confidence that temperatures above that are possible, but I suspect they are.

Mike W.

(published on 06/03/2008)

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