latent heat, heat change associated with a change of state or phase (see states of matter). Latent heat, also called heat of transformation, is the heat given up or absorbed by a unit mass of a substance as it changes from a solid to a liquid, from a liquid to a gas, or the reverse of either of these changes. It is called latent because it is not associated with a change in temperature. Each substance has a characteristic heat of fusion, associated with the solid-liquid transition, and a characteristic heat of vaporization, associated with the liquid-gas transition. The latent heat of fusion for ice is 80 calories per gram (see calorie). This amount of heat is absorbed by each gram of ice in melting or is given up by each gram of water in freezing. The latent heat of vaporization of steam is 540 calories per gram, absorbed during vaporization or given up during condensation. For a substance going directly from the solid to the gas state, or the reverse, the heat absorbed or given up is known as the latent heat of sublimation.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.