Earth is the only planet we know of that can support life. The planet is not too close or too far away from the sun. It lies in a "Goldilocks zone" that is just right — not too hot, not too cold.
The distance from Earth to the sun is one of the most important factors in making Earth habitable. The next closest planet to the sun, Venus, for example, is the hottest planet in the solar system. Temperatures there reach more than 750 F (400 C), while the average temperature on Mars is minus 80 F (minus 60 C).
Earth's atmosphere also play a vital role in regulating the temperature by providing a blanket of gases that not only protects us from excessive heat and harmful radiation from the sun, but also traps heat rising from the Earth's interior, keeping us warm.
The average temperature on Earth is about 61 degrees F (16 C). But temperatures vary greatly around the world depending on the time of year, ocean and wind currents and weather conditions. Summers tend to be warmer and winters colder. Also, temperatures tend to be higher near the equator and lower near the poles.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, the coldest place on Earth is Vostok Station in Antarctica, where it reached minus 128.6 F (minus 89.2 C) on July 21, 1983. The coldest inhabited place is Oymyakon, Russia, a small village in Siberia, where it dips down to an average of minus 49 F (minus 45 C) and once hit a low of minus 96.16 F (minus 71 C).
Which location holds the record as the hottest place on Earth is a matter of some contention. El Azizia, Libya, held the top hot spot for 90 years. Temperatures allegedly climbed to 136.4 F (58 C) on Sept. 13, 1922. But the World Meteorological Organization stripped the town southwest of Tripoli of that distinction in 2012. A committee of climate experts from nine countries concluded that the temperature had been documented in error by an inexperienced observer.
So the "new" hottest place on Earth is Greenland Ranch (Furnace Creek) in Death Valley, Calif., where it reached 134 F (56.7 C) on July 10, 1913. But even that distinction depends on what is being measured. Death Valley's record is for the highest air temperature. A higher surface temperature of 159.3 F (70.7 C) was recorded by a Landsat satellite in 2004 and 2005 in the Lut Desert in Iran.
Highest and lowest temperatures by continent
|North America||High: 134 F (56.7 C)||July 10, 1913||Furnace Creek Ranch, Death Valley, Calif.|
|Low: -81.4 F (-63 C)||Feb. 3, 1947||Snag, Yukon Territory, Canada|
|South America||High: 120 F (48.9 C)||Dec. 11, 1905||Rivadavia, Argentina|
|Low: -27 F (-32.8 C)||June 1, 1907||Sarmiento, Argentina|
|Europe||High: 118.4 F (48 C)||July 10, 1977||Athens and Elefsina, Greece|
|Low: -72.6 F (-58.1 C)||Dec. 31, 1978||Ust 'Schugor, Russia|
|Asia||High: 129.2 F (54 C)||June 21, 1942||Tirat Zevi, Israel|
|Low: -90 F (-67.8 C)||
1) Feb. 5, 1892
2) Feb. 6, 1933
1) Verkhoyansk, Russia
2) Oymyakon, Russia
|Africa||High: 131 F (55 C)||July 7, 1931||Kebili, Tunisia|
|Low: -11 F (-23.9 C)||Feb. 11, 1935||Ifrane, Morocco|
|Australia||High: 123 F (50.7 C)||Jan. 2, 1960||Oodnadatta, South Australia|
|Low: -9.4 F (-23 C)||July 21, 1983||Charlotte Pass, New South Wales|
|Antarctica||High: 59 F (15 C)||May 1, 1974||Vanda Station, Antarctica|
|Low: -129 F (-89.2 C)||July 21, 1983||Vostok Station, Antarctica|
Rising temps, rising seas
The average surface temperature has risen by 33.4 degrees F (0.8 C) since the 1880s. The highest increases have occurred in just the past few decades. This gradual increase in the average temperature is called global warming. There is great debate about whether global warming is real, but climate scientists looking at the data agree that the planet is getting warmer. The biggest concern about global warming is that the polar ice will melt and sea levels will rise. Scientists predict that the Arctic may be ice-free by 2040. [10 Climate Change Myths Busted]
— Tim Sharp, Reference Editor
- Earth's Atmosphere: Composition, Climate & Weather
- How Big is Earth?
- What is Earth Made Of?
- How Far is Earth from the Sun?