Thermal energy is generally considered to be a term used in physics, and refers to the energy created when the kinetic and potential energy of an object in motion is combined. As the name implies, thermal energy refers to heat that is created through the process of thermal energy.
Thus, thermal energy can simply be described as a flow of energy, or a means of energy that is moving from one system or state to another. As the energy moves from one state to another, a difference in temperature will occur. This difference in temperature is noted as the thermal energy.
From a physics standpoint, thermal energy for an object is calculated by summing the sensible and latent forms of internal energy within an object. Every object on the planet has what is known as internal energy. Internal energy is the sum of all forms of energy within an object. Every object has the following potential properties of internal energy: sensible energy, latent energy, chemical energy, nuclear energy. Sensible energy refers to the portion of energy of an object that is associated with kinetic energy, whereas latent energy refers to the phase of matter of the object such as solid, liquid, or gas. Thus, thermal energy refers to the combination of sensible and latent energies within an object.
For example, when butter is melted on the stove, it contains kinetic energy by the very fact that the butter is in motion. It also contains latent energy as it moves from one state of matter to another – from solid to liquid. The combination of kinetic energy and latent energy as the butter melts will be the thermal energy, and is generally referred to as the temperature difference between the two states of matter.
Another example of thermal energy lies in the simple calorie. We all know what calories are as we watch them closely when we are on a diet. More calories ingested will ultimately result in weight gain, and thus, calories are a form of energy in themselves. Thermal energy is used to calculate the caloric content of a food item. The amount of energy that is required to raise the temperature of one gram of the food item by one degree is referred to as the caloric content that is calculated through thermal energy. The more thermal energy that is required to raise the temperature of one gram of food, the more calories that food item will have.
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