Technical and Folk Communicated He With (was Re: DUMB HUMOR

Michael M. Butler (
Sun, 05 Dec 1999 02:36:20 -0800

Yes. You're right, in the technical context, regarding the temperature of space as a medium that exchanges heat via conduction/convection (and yes, there's not much convection absent a strong gravity gradient, but work with me for a minute and grant that, e.g., the 50-ton total mass of Luna's atmosphere probably could be said to convect and could also be regarded as a pretty creditable "spacelike" medium... but I digress).

And so, I take the question "what is the temperature of space?" in two ways.

The first is, as you say, whatever temperature _space_ is doesn't much matter, whatever the average speed of a particle, there are so few that the actual temperature of the medium as such doesn't matter because the _rate_ at at which any (quasi) convective transfer could occur is so low.

The second is to do exactly what I've done (as have others): take the question to mean (or rather, take the questioner to want to know) "What will _my_ (skin? boundary layer? something like that) equilibrium temperature be, from a practical, embodied perspective, and please be polite about it, won't you--will I be far from comfortable?"

In that nontechnical, folk sense:
First: the Spockian reply--"It doesn't matter"--causes some friction or torsion in the questioner, who still wants to know "would I die or what?" So that's not a satisfying answer in the folk context.

Second: "The impolite answer is "oh, it cycles around the freezing point of water at 1 AU." or somesuch.

Third: The polite answer is "Well, your shadow side freezes, and your sun side bakes, but at well below the temperature of molten lead (ca. 200 C).--in a can with some air conditioning, you could probably stay comfortable. At least, in this neighborhood."

Note that I did say "What is Your Temperature?" earlier in the DUMB JOKE thread. So I'd already made this sloppy rfolk meaning assignment.

I support what you've said, just wanted to share my sloppy terminology exegesis...


At 21:39 1999/12/04 -0800, you wrote:
> > Michael M. Butler wrote:
> > > "What is your temperature?" "Um, 3 degrees K, or three hundred degres F,
> > > depending on how you look at it."
> > Technotranscendence wrote:
> > Wrong conversion! Michael probably means -370 degrees C (or -457 degrees
> > F)... Had to nitpick!:)?
>The way I interpreted that is: in a near vacuum, it doesnt matter much
>what the temperature is. The heat transfer from or to the few particles
>present is very low compared to the heat transfer by radiation. If one
>were in deep space with a pressure of 1 picotorr, the temperature
>could be anything you wanted, but you wouldnt know the difference.
>You would still radiate heat away. Doug Jones explained it in his
>To get a feel for what I am saying, take a grinder and grind some
>steel. One can put ones bare hand in the shower of sparks and yet
>feel no discomfort, even tho the sparks are hotter'n hell. Its because
>there is so little mass there to conduct heat into ones skin. spike