Much ado about something
Date: Tuesday, December 11, 2007 @ 20:42:45 MST
Topic: Science

From WonderQuest with April Holladay: What is Vacuum, such as in Space, is there vacuum between the atoms of water molecules? Is Vacuum a squishable-stretchable thing? oooo, this fascinates me. Andre, Vancouver, Canada

A look at 'vacuum energy.' The animation shows the inside of a proton where a quark and an anti-quark pop into existence, causing a hole in the vacuum-field fluctuations. (Three quarks make up a proton. Protons and electrons make up atoms; atoms make up molecules.)

The two spheres represent the quark and anti-quark. The tube between them depicts the hole. Animation courtesy of Derek B. Leinweber, CSSM, University of Adelaide, copyright, used with permission.

A perfect vacuum. Ah, for the good old days of Aristotle and Newton, when we simply thought of a perfect vacuum as a volume of completely empty space, containing nothing. Such a volume would have zero pressure.

Nonsense, Plato said. There can never be nothing.

Now we know Plato was right, but for reasons that don't make intuitive sense. Consider an electron. It's both a particle and a wave. Since it has wave-like properties, its position is smeared out. According to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, we can never know both the electron's exact position and momentum at the same time. But that means any small volume of space could have particles within it, which means no volume of space can ever be a perfect vacuum, for certain...

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