Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

B Is space really a vacuum?

  1. Aug 18, 2015 #1
    Is space actually a vacuum or it is so large that any matter is negligible?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 18, 2015 #2


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    'vacuum' is used fairly loosely. Essentially, its common use is merely 'where there is negligible matter'. We say 'it is a vacuum' in orbit, or on the Moon or between planets, but it isn't really. All these places are peppered with gas and dust, but the density is so small we tend to call it a vacuum for most intents and purposes (such as whether we can breather there, or if water will boil).

    'space' is also an ambiguously-defined term. Space is not a thing that has a volume, unless you define the volume.

    I think you're asking if the 'observable universe' is essentially a vacuum. Asking if the universe is a vacuum because it's so empty is like asking 'Can a box of tennis balls be considered empty if you ignore all the tennis balls in it?'
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2015
  4. Aug 18, 2015 #3
    Although there is gas and dust and other particles present in minute amounts, for the most part interstellar space is a very hard vacuum.
    The density in star forming regions is marginally higher, but still is very tenuous, here the density is enough to block some light.
    These are the dust lanes and nebulae that we see in images of galaxies.
    Regions where it gets dense enough to collapse into a new star are rare, but it does of course happen.
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2015
  5. Aug 18, 2015 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Its a little like asking how dark is dark. Generally speaking interstellar space has a harder vacuum than the best we can produce on earth.
  6. Aug 18, 2015 #5
    Even an absolutely perfect vacuum isn't really empty as far as we know either.
  7. Aug 18, 2015 #6


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Now, Dave, be fair. It's a lot more like asking 'can you consider a cargo container empty if there are a couple of grains of sand in it and you ignore them?'
  8. Aug 19, 2015 #7


    User Avatar

    Damn, I think you just came up with a solution to the paradox of the heap ... well, kinda, anyway.

    You just... ignore them.... lol...:oldcool:
  9. Aug 23, 2015 #8


    Staff: Mentor

    The OP's question has been addressed. Thread closed.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Similar Discussions: Is space really a vacuum?
  1. Vacuum Energy? (Replies: 1)

  2. Vacuum Metastability (Replies: 15)