Heat can move around and between objects in three main ways. One is conduction, when heat energy passes between two objects in physical contact. When you touch an object to see how warm it is, you receive some of its heat by conduction. A second way is by convection. This only happens in liquids and gases. As some of the atoms or molecules receive heat energy and become warm they spread out more. The heated part of the liquid or solid is now less dense than its cooler surroundings so it rises or floats. As it rises, it carries its heat energy in the form of convection current. You can feel this as warm air rising from a central heating radiator.

The third way that heat moves is by radiation. It is in the form of infrared waves which are part of a whole range of waves, including radio waves, light and X-rays, known as the electromagnetic spectrum. Conduction and convection both need matter to transfer heat. Radiation does not. Infrared waves can pass through space, which is how the Sun’s heat reaches Earth.

Like light waves, infrared waves reflect from light-coloured or shiny surfaces. On a hot day, light-coloured clothes reflect the Sun’s warmth and keep you cooler than dark clothing, which absorbs the warmth. Substances that slow down conduction and convection, such as wood, plastic and glass fibre, are called thermal insulators. Layers of fat, or blubber in a whale, are good insulators.

The faster an aircraft goes, the greater the heat from friction with air. Very fast planes like the X-15 rocket have special heat-radiating paint that gives out heat as fast as possible, to prevent the metal skin of the plane melting at high speed.

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