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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Almanac: Mr. Celsius

Air Date: Week of

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This week, we have facts about Anders Celsius. Three hundred years ago the Swedish inventor of the Celsius temperature scale was born.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.


CURWOOD: With winter coming, many of us are digging out those overcoats, but, if Anders Celsius had his way, colder days would mean rising temps. Confused? Yes, well, so were we. But, here's the story behind the Celsius rise to glory. Celsius was born 300 years ago this week, in Uppsala, Sweden, and he grew up to be an astronomer. He used lots of weights and measures in this work, but, being a scientist, Celsius was bothered by the large variety of thermometers in use at the time because each was based on a different scale. One defined boiling water at 60 degrees. Another, invented by the German scientist Gabriel Fahrenheit, set the boiling point at 212. Anders Celsius yearned for a practical universal scale, and so he made up his own. He chose fixed points, defined by the temperatures where water would boil and ice would melt, to delineate his scale. Then he divided the distance into 100 units. That's where we get those centrigrades from. Celsius designated zero as water's boiling point and 100 as its melting point. He did that to avoid negative temperatures, but it was a bit awkward to use. So, after his death, colleagues of Celsius reversed his scale and it went on to become the standard everywhere in the world--well, everywhere except the United States, of course. Here, only the fellow scientists of Celsius use his logical scale. But if you want to join them, here's the formula: Take the Fahrenheit temperature, subtract by 32, divide by 9, then multiply by 5. Got it? And that's this week's Living on Earth Almanac.




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