In thermodynamics, heat is energy in transfer to or from a thermodynamic system, by mechanisms other than thermodynamic work or transfer of matter.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] The various mechanisms of energy transfer that define heat are stated in the next section of this article.

The Sun and Earth form an ongoing example of a heating process. Some of the Sun's thermal radiation strikes and heats the Earth. Compared to the Sun, Earth has a much lower temperature and so sends far less thermal radiation back to the Sun. The heat of this process can be quantified by the net amount, and direction (Sun to Earth), of energy it transferred in a given period of time.

Like thermodynamic work, heat transfer is a process involving more than one system, not a property of any one system. In thermodynamics, energy transferred as heat contributes to change in the system's cardinal energy variable of state, for example its internal energy, or for example its enthalpy. This is to be distinguished from the ordinary language conception of heat as a property of an isolated system.

The quantity of energy transferred as heat in a process is the amount of transferred energy excluding any thermodynamic work that was done and any energy contained in matter transferred. For the precise definition of heat, it is necessary that it occur by a path that does not include transfer of matter.[8]

Though not immediately by the definition, but in special kinds of process, quantity of energy transferred as heat can be measured by its effect on the states of interacting bodies. For example, respectively in special circumstances, heat transfer can be measured by the amount of ice melted, or by change in temperature of a body in the surroundings of the system.[9] Such methods are called calorimetry.

The conventional symbol used to represent the amount of heat transferred in a thermodynamic process is Q. As an amount of energy (being transferred), the SI unit of heat is the joule (J).