Temperature vs Thermal Energy: Difference and Comparison

Temperature and thermal energy are physical properties; both are the thermodynamic state nature of an object. Yet both the terms imply a very different meaning.

Particles present in a substance moves at different speed particles moving at a slower speed has less kinetic energy (cooler in temperature), whereas particles moving at a faster speed possess more kinetic energy (hotter).

Key Takeaways

  1. Temperature measures the average kinetic energy of the particles in a substance, indicating the degree of hotness or coldness on a specific scale, such as Celsius or Fahrenheit.
  2. Thermal energy is a substance’s total internal energy, which includes its particles’ kinetic and potential energy and is directly related to the substance’s temperature and mass.
  3. The main differences between temperature and thermal energy lie in their definitions and measurement, with the temperature being a measure of average kinetic energy and thermal energy representing the total internal energy of a substance.

Temperature vs. Thermal Energy

Temperature is the average kinetic energy of particles in a substance. It is measured using a thermometer or other temperature-sensing device. Thermal energy is the total energy of all particles in a substance and is related to temperature, mass, composition, and external forces.

Temperature vs Thermal energy

Temperature measures the average kinetic energy present in the object’s molecules. Thermal energy determines the total kinetic energy of the molecules present in an object.

The quantity of the object is a key factor in determining the amount of thermal energy.


Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonTemperatureThermal Energy
DefinitionThe total internal energy of an object due to the random motion of its particlesTotal internal energy of an object due to the random motion of its particles
Unit of MeasureCelsius (°C), Kelvin (K), Fahrenheit (°F)Joule (J)
DependenceNot dependent on the mass or specific heat capacity of an objectDependent on the mass, temperature, and specific heat capacity of an object
Relation to State of MatterChanges during phase transition without change in thermal energyCan change without phase transition (e.g., when heating or cooling an object)
Transfer MechanismHeat transfer by conduction, convection, and radiationHeat transfer by conduction, convection, and radiation
ImportanceIndicates the ‘hotness’ or ‘coldness’ of an objectA measure of the average kinetic energy of particles in a system


What is Temperature?

Temperature is a physical property that signifies how hot or cold a body/object is. It characterizes the average kinetic energy of all the molecules present in an object.

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The temperature of an object can be measured with the help of a thermometer. The three systems that help classify the SI temperature unit are- celsius, Kelvin, and Fahrenheit.

Temperature can be linked with two properties hot and cold. The particles present within the object determine it completely.

The speed of each particle in the object depends on how much energy the particles contain. The faster the particles move and the farther apart, the higher the temperature. The slower the particles and the closer they are, the lower the temperature.

In two bodies with different temperatures, when they interact, heat exchange occurs between them, causing the hotter object to cool down and the cooler object to get heated up. Heat exchange constantly occurs, and the exchange only stops when the two objects are at a similar temperature.

Temperature is pivotal in all natural science- physics, chemistry, geology, etc. Hence, the temperature determines any chemical reaction’s speed, scope, and intensity.


What is Thermal Energy?

Thermal energy implies the energy within an object that is responsible for temperature. It is produced when a rise in temperature leads the particles within the object to move faster and collide.

As there is an increase in kinetic energy, the thermal energy of the object increases. Hence the thermal energy of the object increases with the temperature rise.

Thermal energy transfer is noticed when a temperature rise exists in a system of continuous matter. Thermal energy can be transferred through various elements such as conduction, convection, and radiation.

It transfers from the part of the object with a higher temperature to the part with a lower temperature; the process continues until the point where the temperature is equal in all parts.

thermal energy

Main Differences Between Temperature and Thermal Energy

  1. The average kinetic energy of molecules within an object is called temperature. At the same time, the total kinetic energy within an object is called thermal energy.
  2. For temperature, the state can vary. It can either be hot or cold, but in the case of thermal energy, the object’s temperature has to be hot.
  3. Temperature can be measured in three variables: celsius, kinetic, and Fahrenheit, whereas thermal energy can be measured in two variables- joules and calories.
  4. In the case of temperature, it can further vary when the object interacts with another object of different temperatures, and a flow of molecules occurs, eventually resulting in the temperature of both objects getting the same. In the case of the thermal energy flow of molecules within the object, the object’s temperature is constant throughout.
  5. Temperature is not dependent on the quantity of the object, whereas thermal energy is determined through the quantity of the object.
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Difference Between Temperature and Thermal Energy

  1. https://arxiv.org/pdf/1411.6584
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364032116302751

Last Updated : 11 June, 2023

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16 thoughts on “Temperature vs Thermal Energy: Difference and Comparison”

  1. I’m not sure I agree with the reliance on mass for determining thermal energy, but overall, this is a good breakdown of the topic.

  2. I appreciate the detailed explanation of temperature and thermal energy. It’s important to understand these concepts, especially in natural science.

  3. The explanation of heat transfer mechanisms is very helpful. It’s nice to see that this wasn’t overlooked.

  4. I always get confused between temperature and thermal energy. However, the comparison table provided here helps to clarify the differences.


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