Ours is a relatively cool planet when compared to the average atmospheric temperature of Venus, which is 867 degrees Fahrenheit (464 degrees Celsius). Or, to look at it another way, it's a relatively warm planet, when compared to the icy red desert of Mars, where the surface experiences subzero freezes most of the year. That's probably why astronomers refer to our type of atmosphere as a "Goldilocks": not too hot, not too cold, but just right for carbon-based life. Despite how temperate things look when placed on an astronomical scale, the hottest locales on the blue planet do reach extremes that are justifiably terrifying to heat-sensitive creatures like us. Read on to see some of the hottest places on the planet Earth, as well as the tricks we and other animals have adopted to survive in them.
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This is La Valle de la Luna in Chile -- the "Valley of the Moon." It's not the only Valley of the Moon in the world -- the Sonoma Valley in California bears the same name, as do desert locations in Argentina and elsewhere. Though these deserts earned their mysterious shared title long ago, it wouldn't be hard to make the mistake of believing they were christened after the 1969 moon landing, based on what we Earthlings finally saw of our natural satellite's barren, meteor-blasted surface. Surprisingly, however, the surface of the moon might not meet the scorching standard set by some of our Earth deserts: In 2009, a lunar probe known as LCROSS crashed into the moon to detect levels of H2O in the ejecta plume that followed the impact. The probe determined that, based on particles of ice found in the dust, the moon is about twice as "wet" as the Sahara Desert. That should give you a clue just how serious Earth deserts can get. Check out one of the world's most sweltering landscapes on the next page.
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Like many deserts, the Kalahari of southern Africa has brutal temperature variations between night and day -- and these are some monster days. They're the kind no spray fan or kiddie pool, no popsicle or lemonade could fight. For example, when Les Stroud, host of Discovery's Survivorman, spent seven days in the Kalahari for his show, he recorded temperatures of 149 degrees Fahrenheit (65 degrees Celsius) on the uncovered sand and 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit (42 degrees Celsius) in the shade. To see some of the rough beasts that prowl this unthinkable climate, check out the next page.
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The gnu or wildebeest herds of Africa live generally difficult lives, migrating constantly to survive the onslaught of the seasonal climate variations on one hand, while keeping an eye out for predatory stalkers like lions and wild dogs on the other. Just like humans, these muscular herbivores have to search out reliable sources of food and water in the wild, and like most deserts, the Kalahari is not quick to supply these desperately needed resources. Next, take a look at what most sources agree is the hottest major desert in the world.
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The Sahara is the hot desert. It's the biggest, the toughest, the hottest and probably the most deadly. Many of the world's temperature records have been set in the various corners of this thoroughly baked, broiled and barbecued landscape in the northern half of Africa. You might ask: Why are most of the hottest spots on Earth found in deserts? Deserts are able to reach fry-an-egg-on-a-rock temperatures during the day because of their low humidity. In fact, a desert biome is defined not by any of the common visual markers like the lack of plant life or an abundance of sand, but by the lack of moisture -- specifically, less than 10 inches of rainfall yearly. Without any water to use up the sun's energy through the process of evaporation, the dry, uncovered ground takes all of the sunlight it absorbs and radiates it back out as heat. On the next page, you'll see some of the ingenious tricks Sahara-dwellers have come up with to survive in this clay-oven climate.
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These are the gardens of the Adjder oasis of Algeria in the northern Sahara. Cultivated by farmers with some deft agricultural techniques, these plants struggle for life in a viciously hot environment. Since there is almost no rain, and no nearby river to provide irrigation, the plants in these gardens have to get their water pumped from deep wells underneath the dunes. Check out some similar desert crops in a city known for setting heat records on the next page.
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These crops outside Timbuktu, Mali, are fighting an uphill battle against the ridiculous climatic conditions set forth by the Sahara. Just like the keepers of the gardens in the previous photo, the resourceful farmers of Timbuktu have had to outsmart the wicked heat with combinations of well-water hydration, wind screens and artificial sun-shades made of cloth. Can you guess exactly how hot it gets in this ancient trade hub in the desert? Head over to the next page to find out.
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This is the Sankore mosque in Timbuktu, which was the home office of the 16th-century University of Timbuktu -- a famous destination of higher learning in the medieval world. While the university is no longer in session, Timbuktu is still one of the hottest known cities on the planet, with an eyeball-melting recorded high of 130.1 degrees Fahrenheit (54.5 degrees Celsius). To escape the desert for a moment, we'll take a look at one of the hottest wet cities in the world on the next page.
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High humidity in the tropical seat of Bangkok, Thailand, prevents this massive metropolis from reaching the staggering daytime highs we see in the Sahara, but Bangkok's no slouch in the heat department, charting an average daily high of 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius). And unlike the desert, which tends to experience dramatic fluctuations in temperature based on the time of day and the season, Bangkok remains hot and humid every day and every night, month after month. Next, we'll head back to the Sahara to see one of the most inhospitable-looking landscapes you'll ever see.
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Do not attempt to adjust your computer monitor -- you're looking at a real photo. These are the geothermal hot springs of Dallol, Ethiopia, where ponds of sulfuric acid bubble up from underground and crazed volcanic salt formations crystallize under the glare of the sun. While there are some disputes about different temperature records and how to apply them, Dallol is one of the candidates for the title of the hottest place on the planet. Just how hot does it get there? Take a look at the next page to find out.
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For years people have mined substances like sodium chloride (table salt) and potash from the punishing mineral terraces of Dallol. This is not a place you go to enjoy the sunny weather -- with the combined effects of the extreme heat and the toxic gases of the sulfur fields, it's more like the mythical land of Mordor. Daily high temperatures scrape 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius), with records of up to 145 degrees Fahrenheit (63 degrees Celsius) in the hottest part of the year. Next up, do you know the hottest spot in North America?
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These are the eroded sedimentary rocks of Zabriskie Point in Death Valley, Calif. Death Valley is at once a beloved part of the geographical character of the American West, and also a violently hot and unforgiving ecosystem that can take visitors off guard if they're not careful. In 1913, thermometers in the aptly-named "Furnace Creek" area of Death Valley registered an air temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit (57 degrees Celsius). Check out the next page to see some of the wily four-legged survivors who eke out a living in Death Valley.
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Some extremely tough indigenous species survive in the geological frying pan that is Death Valley, including scorpions, jackrabbits, chuckwalla lizards, roadrunners, and, of course, wily coyotes like this one. Many of these creatures survive by adopting nocturnal schedules, hiding in caves and crevices from the weapons-grade sunlight that cooks the desert during the day.
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Some parts of Death Valley support basically no life at all, taking on the appearance of a moonscape or empty asteroid. This is the cracked earth of Badwater -- a massive salt flat that is not just the lowest point in Death Valley -- it's the lowest point in the United States, at about 280 feet (85 meters) below sea level. Next, we'll take look at one of the hottest cities in the Middle East.
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Kuwait City, the capital of the small country of Kuwait, is perched on the shores of the Persian Gulf and surrounded by vast deserts in every other direction. The towers rising toward the sun in this picture are the Kuwait Towers -- built in the 1970s to house restaurants and viewing platforms in addition to thousands of gallons of water for the city. Check out the next page to find out how hot it gets in Kuwait City.
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During the hottest part of the year in August, Kuwait City routinely endures daily temperatures above 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius). Next up, do you know the country that is home to the highest disputed shade temperature reading ever taken?
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Libya is home to several of the world's highest recorded temperatures. The most famous (but quite possibly inaccurate) natural temperature reading ever taken in the shade was in El Azizia, Libya, in 1922. A thermometer registered 136 degrees Fahrenheit (58 degrees Celsius) during a period when dry winds from the desert fed unusual heat to the city. Even if the reading was off by a degree or two, El Azizia remains one of the most scorching environments known to humankind.
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Ghadames, Libya, is another town that seems to be trying to give the plasma core of a neutron star a run for its money. This place gets hot. The buildings of the Old Town of Ghadames are designed to create as much defense from the sun as possible, with lots of solid, opaque overhangs to create tunnels of shade between destinations. This area is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
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Another contender for the world's hottest spot is the Lut Desert in Iran. Most record temperatures are measured with ground-based thermometers. Given this fact, it makes sense that we simply aren't around to detect many of the hottest days in the hottest places; because of the extreme climate conditions these are exactly the places that humans are least likely to venture. So if we don't use finely-calibrated ground-based thermometers, how else are we going to take the temperature of a remote, insanely hot place like the Lut Desert? Click over to the next page to find out.
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According to researchers from the University of Montana, data from the U.S. Geological Survey's Landsat satellites confirm that Iran's Lut Desert is one of the hottest of them all. Satellites can determine surface temperature via infrared scanning, and most importantly, they can peek around in places where few human beings are brave enough to venture. Satellite data put the maximum unshaded surface temperature of the Lut at more than 150 degrees Fahrenheit (65.6 degrees Celsius) for several years in the late 2000s. Above are the ruins of a caravanserai in the Lut, where, in the 17th century, caravans passing through the region would stop to rest and take shelter from the sun and the heavy heat. Next up, did you know there was such a thing as a cold desert?
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Most of the hottest places on Earth are deserts, but not all deserts are especially hot. Technically, vast tracts of the Arctic and Antarctic regions are deserts, since they receive so little rainfall. But there are other cold deserts around the world, such as the Atacama Desert in South America, shown here. The Atacama may not be hot, but it's home to some of the most dried-up neighborhoods in the world. This makes it an ideal location for astronomical observatories, which can find their views of space clouded if there is too much moisture in the atmosphere. Next, take a look at the hottest city in Iran.
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This is the Karun River Bridge in Ahvaz, in western Iran. It's no coincidence that Ahvaz is less than 200 miles from another one of the hottest urban areas in the world -- the previously-mentioned Kuwait City. The desert lands in this region, spanning the borders of Kuwait, Iraq and Iran, are a perfect accelerator for extreme heat conditions. On top of the heat, Ahvaz is also subject to the caprice of powerful desert winds, and sandstorms from the west have been known to shut down schools and government offices on occasion. Next up, take a look at a technical "hottest place" contender that puts all the world's deserts to shame.
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While this is obviously cheating, the hands-down winner for hottest place on Earth is the Brookhaven National Laboratory of Long Island, N.Y., shown above, where in June 2012, scientists cooked up a wonderful little batch of quark-gluon plasma that measured about 7.2 trillion degrees Fahrenheit (4 trillion degrees Celsius). This is about a quarter of a million times hotter than the center of our sun. So, you know, you might want to bring an umbrella.
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Despite the fact that there's standing water, Israel's Dead Sea region is a dry, dry desert, receiving on average less than 2 inches of rainfall annually. The Dead Sea and Death Valley, Calif., have more in common than arid climate and necrotic nomenclature. Like Death Valley, the Dead Sea occupies an extremely low elevation, with points of dry land at more than 1,300 feet (about 400 meters) below sea level. Yet despite the dry heat and hot air, the Dead Sea has become a popular tourist location, attracting millions of visitors every year.
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The Dead Sea region is slowly becoming even more arid as the sea itself disappears. Yes, that's right -- this massive salt lake is apparently on course to vanish before our eyes. Triple-digit temperatures (Fahrenheit, of course) and the low-humidity atmosphere in the Dead Sea valley make for quick evaporation, while the Jordan River, which feeds the sea, is providing less and less water as more of its volume is continuously diverted for civil and agricultural use in towns along the banks upstream.
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If you head north of the Dead Sea, you can find much hotter places in Israel, such as the Beit She'an Valley. This region is the home of the kibbutz known as Tirat Tsvi, where in 1942, a temperature of 129.2 degrees Fahrenheit (54 degrees Celsius) made the books. For many years this was considered the record for the highest temperature ever measured on the Asian continent. Tirat Tsvi is now home to a large plantation that produces dates and lulavs (ceremonial palm branches).
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Here's the Wadi Rum, another so-called "Valley of the Moon," this time in western Jordan. For many people living in temperate or colder climates around the world, the Wadi Rum has supplied an indelible image of the hot-weather desert. Why this place in particular? Because this is the where some of the most famous desert scenes in movie history have been shot, including substantial portions of David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Next, check out the two Middle Eastern deserts that reach near this corner of Jordan.
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To the northeast of the Wadi Rum is the Syrian Desert, which is a dry, barren, rocky, region that spans parts of Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Much of the Syrian Desert is covered in lava flows. To the southeast of the Wadi Rum is the massive Arabian Desert, which is the hotter of the two, reaching temperatures as high as 129 degrees Fahrenheit (54 degrees Celsius). Come along to the sizzling Southern Hemisphere on the next page.
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Jutting up like spikes out of the sand, these are the limestone pinnacles of Nambung National Park in Western Australia. Creepy rock formations aside, the Western Desert of Australia isn't quite as threatening as Death Valley or the Sahara in terms of heat. However, it's still quite warm, reaching summer temperatures of around 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). Another story entirely is Queensland, Australia, where a stretch of wasteland measured an astonishing 156.7 degrees Fahrenheit (69.3 degrees Celsius) when an infrared-sensing satellite passed overhead in 2003.
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How do they do it? Athletic creatures like kangaroos can't expect to bound around all day in the sweltering Australian deserts and stay alive. So, like many other desert-dwelling mammals, kangaroos are mostly nocturnal, limiting their daytime activity to the early morning and the late afternoon. If you find yourself in the arid wild of the Outback, you would do well to follow their lead and stay out of the sun.
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