"It's a place where Earth is so close to its limit, it's almost like another planet."
Just how cold can it get on Earth’s surface? About minus 144°F, according to recent satellite measurements of the coldest known place on the planet.
Scientists recorded this extreme temperature on the ice sheet deep in the middle of Antarctica during the long, dark polar winter. As they report this week in Geophysical Research Letters, the team thinks this is about as cold as it can possibly get in our corner of the solar system.
“It’s a place where Earth is so close to its limit, it’s almost like another planet,” says study leader Ted Scambos, a researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
The measurement smashes the previous record for the coldest known air temperature in the natural world: a frigid minus 128.6°F felt in 1983 at the Russian Vostok Station, not far from the South Pole. Humans can’t inhale air that cold for more than a few breaths—it would cause our lungs to hemorrhage. Russian scientists ducking out to check on the weather station would wear masks that warmed the air before they breathed it in.