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It could be worse


The weather outside may be frightful these days, now that we’re into snow season and temperatures have dipped into the teens, but it could always be worse — which it certainly is in Antarctica, where scientists recently measured what they believe is the all-time low temperature for the planet: 135.8 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. That was recorded in August of 2010, but another reading last July came within a fraction of a degree of the record.

That’s “50 degrees colder than anything that has ever been seen in Alaska or Siberia ...” said Ted Scambos, of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in chilly Boulder, Colo., who classified negative 135.8 as definitely being in the “soul-crushing” category, as low temperatures go. The previous record was a relatively balmy 128.6 below.

Feeling warmer now? Unfortunately, this data will come as cold comfort to fans of the Guinness Book of World Records, because these readings won’t be going into that tome anytime soon; these lows were measured by a NASA satellite, you see, and Guinness wants numbers from thermometers on the ground. Whether anyone will be daring enough to stand in that low spot in East Antarctica and read the mercury is another matter.

But it’s a dry cold, Scambos points out — just as people in the Arizona desert are quick to characterize their 120-degree summers as a “dry heat.” At any rate, it’s still cool that somebody keeps track of this stuff.

In other cold-related news we have Comet ISON — or, rather, we no longer have it, because astronomers have reported that this big clump of intergalactic ice that was already being called the comet of the century has vanished. It’s dead, the victim of solar gravity and radiation when it passed too close (a mere 730,000 miles) to the sun on Thanksgiving Day.

In other words, what was shaping up to be quite a light show has fizzled out, according to astronomer Karl Battams, of the Naval Research Lab. “At this point it seems like there is nothing left,” Battams said.

“But its memory will live on.”



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