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Published on Dec 9, 2013
At the coldest spots on Earth, every breath is painful. But how cold can it get on Earth's surface? What sort of weather brings on the record-breaking cold?
On the high plateau of East Antarctica, there is a ridge along the ice sheet nearly 14,000 feet above sea level. The dry atmosphere and the long, sunless winter months combine to make this the coldest place on earth. Under the clear Antarctic night skies the snow surface radiates warmth into space, cooling the air just above the surface. As the air cools, it gets denser and starts to slide down the slope off of the ridge. It collects In small hollows just a little downhill and continues to be cooled as the snow in the hollow radiates away its small amount of warmth.
The MODIS sensor on NASA's Aqua satellite allowed researchers from the National Snow and Ice Data Center to find the coldest place on Earth. By turning to the TIRS sensor on the NASA/USGS Landsat 8 satellite, with its higher spatial resolution, the scientists were able to confirm how the topography facilitates these record low temperatures.