Like the other laws of thermodynamics we will see, the Zeroth Law is based on observation. We start with two such observations:
- If two bodies are in contact through a thermally-conducting boundary for a sufficiently long time, no further observable changes take place; thermal equilibrium is said to prevail.
- Two systems which are individually in thermal equilibrium with a third are in thermal equilibrium with each other; all three systems have the same value of the property called temperature.
These closely connected ideas of temperature and thermal equilibrium are expressed formally in the “Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics:”
Zeroth Law: There exists for every thermodynamic system in equilibrium a property called temperature. Equality of temperature is a necessary and sufficient condition for thermal equilibrium.
The Zeroth Law thus defines a property (temperature) and describes its behavior1.3.
Note that this law is true regardless of how we measure the property temperature. (Other relationships we work with will typically require an absolute scale, so in these notes we use either the Kelvin or Rankine scales. Temperature scales will be discussed further in Section 6.2.) The zeroth law is depicted schematically in Figure 1.8.