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What Is the Difference Between Temperature and Heat

Editorial staff
By Editorial staff. May 1, 2023
What Is the Difference Between Temperature and Heat

With the arrival of summer and good weather, we often speak about a rise in heat and temperature. It is commonly referred to as the same thing, but there is a key difference. Understanding this difference is a good way to understand weather, climate and thermodynamics in general.

At thedailyECO, we ask what is the difference between temperature and heat? We provide definitions of both heat vs. temperature, as well as other important considerations to make.

You may also be interested in: The Differences Between Climate and Weather
  1. What is temperature?
  2. What is heat?
  3. Differences between temperature and heat
  4. Examples of heat

What is temperature?

When we talk about temperature, we are referring to a physical quantity which is made up of various units. These units have been determined due to many factors, all trying to provide a concrete and objective form of measurement. Specifically, temperature is the magnitude that allows us to measure heat or cold in a specific object. This means that the temperature will be expressed in specific and determined units, either:

  • Degrees Celsius
  • Degrees Fahrenheit
  • Kelvins

Regardless of the unit of measurement used, to talk about temperature is to talk about heat. However, although when we say heat we can think of high temperatures, the reality is that the physical temperature can be very low, just as the heat of a physical body can be similarly low.

Temperatures allow for many different ecological formations and is an important factor in climate change. Learn more about how cold temperatures affect ecosystems with our article on what are icebergs?

What Is the Difference Between Temperature and Heat - What is temperature?

What is heat?

When we talk about heat, what we are really talking about is the kinetic energy contained in an object or body. In turn, this can be understood as the movement of the atoms that make up said object.

The greater the kinetic energy of a body, the greater the heat it accumulates. This is because the more its atoms move, the more heat the object in question will produce.

When we talk about cold, what we are really referring to is simply the absence of heat. Since heat is produced by movement of atoms, coldness involves the absence of movement of the atoms and the consequent absence of kinetic energy.

In short, heat is the magnitude that would be measured and temperature the way in which we express said magnitude.

Now that we know what heat and temperature are, we are going to see the similarities between heat and temperature as well as their differences.

What Is the Difference Between Temperature and Heat - What is heat?

Differences between temperature and heat

We have already seen the definition of temperature vs. heat. Now it is time to know the differences between heat and temperature:

  • Definition: heat is a measurable magnitude, while temperature would be the expression of said magnitude referred to a specific object. Although both concepts are closely related to each other, in reality, the only thing that exists objectively is heat (kinetic energy), while temperature would be the way in which we express a specific amount of heat in human language.

  • Measuring instruments: while we measure heat with a calorimeter, we measure temperature with a thermometer.

  • Units of measurement: to measure heat we use the units joule or calorie, while to measure temperature we use the well-known degrees Celsius and Fahrenheit, or the Kelvin scale (measured in kelvins).

  • Transmission: we can transmit heat in different ways, by conduction, radiation or convection, while temperature cannot be transmitted.

  • Representative symbols: while heat in physics is represented by a ‘Q’, temperature in physics is represented by a ‘T’.

  • Particles: heat depends on the size, speed, and number of particles it is composed of, while temperature does not.

We cannot specifically talk about similarities between heat and temperature, but we can say that they are two concepts that go hand in hand. When it is hotter, the temperature increases, and so on.

What Is the Difference Between Temperature and Heat - Differences between temperature and heat

Examples of heat

When talking about heat from a physical perspective, we are referring to a measurable and quantifiable quantity. This quantity can be expressed in a concrete way in the form of temperature using the appropriate units of measure. In this way, the unit of measurement of heat is the same for all objects, since it refers to something objective.

However, it is very common for people to experience heat and cold differently. From a scientific perspective, this does not seem to make any sense. If we start from a physical magnitude that is identical for everyone, then everyone should experience heat and cold in the same way. This is because, in addition to the physical perspective of heat, we can also talk about the subjective perspective.

From this perspective, heat and cold would no longer be concrete physical magnitudes. They become sensations that each individual can perceive personally, i.e. subjectively. In this context, it is important to understand that heat would no longer be something measurable or understandable through temperature.

In fact, it is very common for people to express their thermal sensation in terms other than temperature. Although expressed via colloquialisms and specific language, it can be a great way to express sentiments, even if they do not have any kind of objective value. What may be cold for some may be hot for others, even if the temperature they are experiencing is the same.

In this way, when talking about heat as a physical magnitude, we will be referring to the measurable kinetic energy that can be expressed in the form of temperature. When talking about heat as a sensation, we will be referring to a sensory experience, which can be described but not specified in numerical terms of temperature.

If we focus on more specific examples of heat, we can mention some such as:

  • The heat caused by a light source (the sun being the most important)
  • The heat emitted by a running engine
  • The heat process of a liquid such as a soup spoon being hot at the bottom and cooler at the top

Learn about the most important source of heat in our galaxy with our article on why is the sun yellow?

If you want to read similar articles to What Is the Difference Between Temperature and Heat, we recommend you visit our Facts about nature category.

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What Is the Difference Between Temperature and Heat