Claim: ‘Roy Spencer’s Fatal Error: Believing the Vacuum of Space has a Temperature’

“Astrophysicists will tell you that the vast emptiness of outer space has no temperature. Space is empty, thus it is temperature-less. But ask a climatologist and you’ll be told space is “cold.” Such fallacy spawned the fatal error in the junk science known as “greenhouse gas theory,” also called the “greenhouse effect” (GHE).”

John O’Sullivan writes at

Astrophysicists will tell you that the vast emptiness of outer space has no temperature. Space is empty, thus it is temperature-less. But ask a climatologist and you’ll be told space is ‘cold.’ Such fallacy spawned the fatal error in the junk science known as “greenhouse gas theory,” also called the “greenhouse effect” (GHE).

Alberto Miatello has now published his own stunning debunk of Dr. Roy Spencer’s Yes, Virginia, Cooler Objects Can Make Warmer Objects Even Warmer Still (July 23, 2010) dissecting how the fallacy of ‘cold’ outer space allowed climatologists to believe Earths’ atmosphere acted like a “blanket” to help keep our planet “warmer than it otherwise would be.”

Miatello’s paper adroitly affirms a prior compelling evisceration of Spencer’s errors by Dr. Pierre R. Latour in Latour’s masterful, No, Virginia, Cooler Objects Cannot Make Warmer Objects Even Warmer Still.

The Miatello and Latour papers utterly vindicate the groundbreaking analysis of the Slaying the Sky Dragon book – the world’s first full-volume refutation of the greenhouse gas hypothesis – a publication that some critics have tried and failed to discredit. Miatello’s exposure of the “cold” space fallacy is further compelling affirmation that fudged numbers were fed into the bogus “greenhouse gas theory” equations.

Miatello’s new paper, Roy Spencer and the Vacuum Bottle Flask (February, 2012), not only refutes Spencer’s errors but also once again affirms the damning analysis of savvy climatologist, Dr. Tim Ball who points out, “Climatology is a generalist discipline in a world of specialization.”

Generalists, we find, often need specialist help. We can forgive principled experts such as doctors Roy Spencer and Richard Lindzen because they are not specialists. As Miatello points out,

“The vacuum space is neither cold nor hot, being void of all molecules/atoms (or almost void) and as such has no temperature. Then, you can clearly see the aftermath of Spencer’s wrong idea of ‘cold’ vacuum outer space”…

Read the entire commentary.

13 thoughts on “Claim: ‘Roy Spencer’s Fatal Error: Believing the Vacuum of Space has a Temperature’”

  1. Sierra …

    you can’t have a temperature without molecules … period … cosmic radiation is not heat … it can heat things up, things with molecules …

  2. Jeff: There are molecules in space. Granted, very few of them (i.e., the density is low), but they are there. We call it the ‘vacuum of space’, but it is not an absolute vacuum (i.e., density of zero molecules per cubic meter).

    I’m not a warmist, and I am a scientist, but this article left me scratching my head.

  3. The calibration of space based IR sensors uses deep space “cold” observations. If space is not cold, go tell NASA because they have it all wrong:

    “Each scan (with an 8-second repeat interval) includes views of the internal calibration target (warm calibration point), and a deep space view (cold calibration point).”

  4. My physics classes were more years ago than I like to admit but even I can declare this as bunk. Matter-energy equivalence alone is sufficient to rebut the thesis. A volume of space devoid of matter but containing energy such as cosmic radiation does, indeed, have a temperature (though, of course, a conventional thermometer could not be used to measure it).

    The greenhouse gas theory is at its core a radiative balance theory – that is, a theory saying that changes in the composition of a material can change its blackbody profile. (More specifically, it is a theory that says that changes in the surface layer will change the blackbody profile.) Whether or not it is true, it does not depend on the “cold” of outer space other than to provide a radiative sink for the emitted energy.

    For a simpler example, consider the geological period called “Snowball Earth”, the period during the ice ages when snow covered much of the surface and the effective albedo of the planet approached 1. No one disputes that this resulted in a colder earth regardless of the “temperature” of the surrounding space. Greenhouse gas theory postulates that changes in atmospheric composition could, through more complicated means, also change the effective albedo of the atmosphere.

    Note: I am not saying that the greenhouse gas theory is right. But this attempt to refute it is wrong.

  5. The item is for discussion but is not supported: no, space is not a perfect vacuum and neither is it at absolute zero – it has temperature, albeit very low.

    With regard to the “impossibility” of bi-directional energy flow and the greenhouse effect:

    All that is required to show that our greenhouse doubters are misdescribing the world and/or misreading the Second Law of Thermodynamics is to show any energy transfer from atmosphere to non-gaseous surface since that would invalidate their concept of discrete bodies with strict mono-directional energy flow.

    Since the immediate concern is electromagnetic radiation let’s point first to a visible example of electromagnetic transfer from atmosphere to non-gaseous surface – lighting strikes. And there goes the hypothesis that energy cannot flow back from atmosphere to non-gaseous surface, which greenhouse doubters misdescribe as “warmer body earth” and “cooler body atmosphere”.

    Earth and its atmosphere would necessarily have to be discrete bodies (see your Clausius “No process is possible whose sole result is the transfer of heat from a body of lower temperature to a body of higher temperature.“)

    Earth’s non-gaseous surface and atmosphere are obviously not discrete bodies because they exchange molecules (and energy) continuously through evapotranspiration and precipitation, lofted dust, gaseous emissions from the crust, oceanic absorption and so on…

    Q.e.d. the two necessary conditions required to support the case of “greenhouse effect is impossible and violates the 2nd Law” advocates fail immediately – the bodies are not discrete and they very obviously have bi-directional energy transfers.

  6. Yep. There is far too much confusion in this article, and it probably damages the climate skeptics’ position by publication. The greenhouse effect is most certainly real. The real issues in climate science are elsewhere.

    And in contrast to what this article claims, NASA is not wrong when they state that “MLI insulation does a double-duty job: keeping solar radiation out, and keeping the bitter cold of space from penetrating the Station’s metal skin.” Solar radiation above the atmosphere is intense. Even though the surrounding ‘vacuum’ of space is cold, the heat transfer efficiency from a spacecraft to the ‘heat sink’ of cold ‘vacuum’ space surrounding it is poor, and thus, you have the apparent paradox of risking overheating in a near absolute zero surrounding. One has to watch the thermodynamics versus kinetics arguments.

  7. So the “greenhouse effect” is misstated. The piece still leaves two questions to be answered: Does increased co2 levels reduce the disapating effect of the atmosphere of radiant heat? And two, does increased co2 levels slow the earth’s radiant heat loss? My intuitive answer would be no, but these issues need to be addressed, albeit from a different perspective.

  8. Actually Jeff the real questions are “how much does increasing atmospheric CO2 further delay egress of radiant heat” and “what is the net sign of feedbacks in the system”.

    The answer to the first is “a little but apparently not a lot” and we’ve discussed the second here – where you can play with scripted calculators on that page to test your thoughts.

  9. When I first read the subject article I asked myself “What is this guy talking about?” Space might have an atom per cubic centimeter or something like that, the microwave radiation left over from the Big Bang is about 3 degrees Kelvin, and the vacuum has energy and virtual particles.

    But how does heat flow from a warm region to a cold region at the boundary? Faster moving warm molecules hit slower moving cold particles, and kinetic energy is carried away. The Sun and the Earth cool themselves through black body radiation; an entirely different mechanism. I had a slap in the forehead moment of “of course” when I got it. Such moments are priceless.

  10. Guys, I am in constant discussions on this with space scientists and they tell me climatologist are wrong.Astrophysicist Joe Postma who works for the Canadian and Indian space agencies sums it up:
    “Everyone who has studied thermodynamics knows space doesn’t have a temperature. That’s the first trick question you get on the first day of the first semester of introductory thermodynamics. That 2.7K is the “temperature” of the CMB radiation found in space. It is not the temperature OF space! See the logical difference? Of course academia can’t handle that level of logic anymore; 2.7K would be the induced temperature of a physical body in space with no other heat sources, but it is not the temperature of the empty space itself.”

  11. Yes, but there are still very small numbers of molecules in space – it is not a complete vacuum. There are molecules/atoms in space – and thus, space is ‘very cold’.

    How can the greenhouse effect be nonsense? We can build a greenhouse and see the effect in action. A car left outside on a sunny day seems another good example. Isn’t the Moon’s average temperature compared to the Earth’s average temperature another example of the greenhouse effect induced by our atmosphere? And what about Venus? Mars? These also show evidence of a greenhouse effect (large and small, respectively), unless I am mistaken?

    There is a fundamental difference between being “void of all molecules/atoms” or “almost void”. Space – particularly immediately around the Earth – is “almost void”.

    There are so many statements in your article that make no sense to me. Take this one: “There is no greenhouse effect, our atmosphere is not surrounded by a “colder” vacuum space and thus our atmosphere is not a blanket reducing the rate of heat loss. On the contrary, our gaseous and “wet” atmosphere is acting to cool our planet’s surface by convection and conduction while constrained within the energy neutral zone of the “thermos flask” of vacuum space.” The near vacuum of the space that surrounds the Earth would seem to act as an ‘insulator’ that reduces heat loss from the Earth system. Much like a Thermos bottle. If we stuck the Earth in a giant ocean of some dense liquid that was still a liquid at 2.7 K, it would lose heat far faster to its surroundings than it currently does with us immersed in a near-vacuum at about 3 K. And our atmosphere does reduce heat loss. Basic evidence for this? It often stays warmer on a cloudy night than on a clear night. Why? If I’m not mistaken, clouds (e.g., atmospheric water vapor) absorb the radiative emissions from the Earth’s surface and trap the heat in. The ability of our atmosphere to trap heat is well established. CO2 and other greenhouse gases have heat trapping capacity, too.

    NASA also appears to be fully consistent in this and other regards with respect to the “temperature of space” and how they deal with the energy balance on their spacecraft.

    As noted elsewhere (and I think Milloy has dealt with it as well), there are likely no easy ‘knockout’ blows for the climate skeptics. The areas of real debate appear to be in the accuracy of the current and historical temperature records and what they are really telling us as well as the relative magnitudes of the positive and negative climate forcing variables.

    Skeptics need to stay on-target with solid fundamentals of physical science, particularly in light of the various stages of progress that have been made over the past week. Otherwise, some arguments start to look crazy and just do damage to this call for clarity, and they will also lose support of real scientists who have many concerns over how science has been politicized over the past few decades.

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