Guessing the weather in Hades makes for one hot topic

WARNING: This essay makes use of a common profanity and may not be suitable for all readers.

Last winter a friend observed that it was “colder than hell” in our valley. Recently, I overheard comments that it was “hotter than hell” here. I corrected my friend’s language, on two accounts, but let the more recent comment go. (I didn’t know that person, and we live in dangerous times.) But I pointed out to my friend that hell is generally assumed to be on fire, and that “colder than hell” didn’t make any sense. He and I then had a discussion concerning hell that I thought might be enlightening to the general public

It’s a little hard to get good data about hell. There is a lot of speculation about who’s going there and such, but hard data is lacking. However, one source that should be considered reliable is the Bible. Revelations 21:8 refers to hell as a lake of fire and brimstone. Did you know that brimstone is an old-fashioned name for sulfur? If people are to find themselves consigned to a lake of sulfur, then the temperature of that lake must be high enough to melt the sulfur, but not so high that the sulfur becomes gaseous. Sulfur changes from solid to liquid at about 115 degrees Celsuis, and from liquid to gas at about 445 degrees C. So hell’s lake of brimstone must register somewhere between these two temperatures.

As you can see, being “colder than hell,” as my friend claimed it was, is not really any great accomplishment because 115 degrees C is higher than boiling water. I suppose he was technically correct in that it very definitely was “colder than hell” at the time of his comment. In fact, it is almost always “colder than hell” on Earth because Earth temperatures do not often exceed 115 degrees C.

However, when they say it is “hotter than hell” down in Arizona, I think it is usually just another human exaggeration. I doubt it is ever really “hotter than hell” on Earth. I don’t know what the record temperature on Earth might be, not counting volcanoes and such, but I doubt it has ever been above 445 degrees C, which is the temperature at which the lake of brimstone would cease being a lake and would become, instead, a cloud.

I don’t know what you would call hell if it actually got hotter than hell in hell!

But that brings up a confusing issue. Temperature and pressure are always related. There are a whole bunch of laws explaining this relationship: Boyle’s Law, Charles’ Law, Gay-Lussac’s Law, Avogadro’s Law, and, well, you get the picture. But basically these laws prove that if the volume of hell increases, or the size of hell decreases (same thing), the temperature increases. So, at any given time, the temperature of hell sort of depends on how many souls are there and the actual volume of hell.

Since people have apparently been going to hell since at least the time of Dante, hell must be infinitely big. But in that case there would be no pressure being exerted, so the temperature would be kept at zero degrees Kelvin. Hell might also be a set size, but adjustable, so as to keep the temperature ranging between the two temperatures of 115 degree and 445 degree C.

If hell is gaining souls faster than it can expand (which seems likely in an election year), then pressure is increasing. Increased pressure causes increased temperature. If the pressure is increased too much, there could be one hell of an explosion! On the other hand, if there were a worldwide revival and massive repentance during an off-election year, the number of new souls arriving in hell might decrease. Having fewer souls would cause the pressure to drop, and hence the temperature would drop.

That, of course, would be when hell would freeze over.

Gary McCallister is professor of biology at Mesa State College.


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