Triple point

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In thermodynamics, the triple point of a substance is the temperature and pressure at which three phases (for example, gas, liquid, and solid) of that substance coexist in thermodynamic equilibrium.[1] For example, the triple point of mercury occurs at a temperature of −38.8344 °C and a pressure of 0.2 mPa.

In addition to the triple point between solid, liquid, and gas, there can be triple points involving more than one solid phase, for substances with multiple polymorphs. Helium-4 is a special case that presents a triple point involving two different fluid phases (see lambda point). In general, for a system with p possible phases, there are {p\choose 3} = \tfrac16p(p-1)(p-2) triple points.[1]

The triple point of water is used to define the kelvin, the SI base unit of thermodynamic temperature.[2] The number given for the temperature of the triple point of water is an exact definition rather than a measured quantity. The triple points of several substances are used to define points in the ITS-90 international temperature scale, ranging from the triple point of hydrogen (13.8033 K) to the triple point of water (273.16 K).


Triple point of water

The single combination of pressure and temperature at which liquid water, solid ice, and water vapour can coexist in a stable equilibrium occurs at exactly 273.16 K (0.01 °C) and a partial vapour pressure of 611.73 pascals (ca. 6.1173 millibars, 0.0060373057 atm). At that point, it is possible to change all of the substance to ice, water, or vapor on making arbitrarily small changes in pressure and temperature. Note that even if the total pressure of a system is well above triple point of water, provided the partial pressure of the water vapour is 611.73 pascals then the system can still be brought to the triple point of water. Strictly speaking, the surfaces separating the different phases should also be perfectly flat, to abnegate the effects of surface tensions.

Water has an unusual and complex phase diagram, although this does not affect general comments about the triple point. At high temperatures, increasing pressure results first in liquid and then solid water. (Above around 109 Pa a crystalline form of ice forms that is denser than liquid water.) At lower temperatures under compression, the liquid state ceases to appear, and water passes directly from gas to solid.

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