A Small Comment About the Last Post and Empty Space

I wanted to add a little bit more to the last post, but it was already getting quite long and I thought it would be best to publish this seperately.

Atoms are vitally important, but trying to explain what they are is not always the most fascinating of tasks. However one thing about them really does interest me. Not because it’s complicated or because its on the edge of scientific discovery, just because I think it’s interesting.

That thing is the amount of space inside of them.

In general most people when asked to look at the world around them would comment on the buildings nearby, or the tree they might be sitting beneath. Some may even point out to the stars and talk about how far away they are. Very few people however will point out to the stars and comment on how much empty space there is between us and the little burning dots.

The odd truth is that if we look anywhere in the world we can make a remark about how much empty space there is between everything. Even in the atom.

If I bring my extremely artistic drawing back up here:

It’s not always obvious at first, but there’s a lot of distance between the shell and the nucleus. In fact in real life the shell is much further away than this picture suggests, and much smaller than the nucleus. Between these two parts of the atom is absolutely nothing, pure empty space.

So because of this, even when you look at a solid brick wall (even one made from Lego), what you are looking at is about 99.999 etc % (almost all of it) empty space. But because of the way atoms work, and the way they all fit together, what we end up seeing is the tiny fraction of a percentage that isn’t empty space.

Sometimes it’s a bit of a wonder how we see anything at all!

Leave a comment


  1. The nucleus in its atom: a grape seed / pea / marble in a football stadium. Whatever, that’s still a lot of empty space and I guess the electrons are specks of dust way up in the highest seats.

    The odd thing is, the closer you look at those specks of dust and grape seeds the more difficult it becomes to locate them as tangible objects – they slip through your fingers and all you’re left holding is maths.

    But the thing is it works, and it works like nothing has ever worked before – even if you only think in terms of banging uranium or hydrogen atoms together and releasing enough energy to flatten cities.

    What on earth is that energy?

  2. I watched a BBC episode on this the other day.

    You’re right that all we have left is maths. When it comes to the smallest things in the world (and the most important) they are best explained in equations.

    As is your question “What on earth is that energy?”

    E = mc2 my friend.

    Energy = Mass x (Speed of Light x Speed of Light)

    If you have a mass of 1 gram, you still end up with 89,875,517,900,000,000 joules worth of energy (one joule = enough energy to heat 1 gram of water by 1 degree centigrade). In nutritional terms it’s about : 21,480,764,300,000 Kcal.

    A quick Google shows me that an average male uses about 80 mil. kcal in a lifetime. Which means that one gram of mass can give enough energy for over 1 billion people throughout their lifetime. There would be almost no need for food anymore. Now if only we could find a way to use it for that purpose. (probably impossible).

    The basic Science is that energy and mass are transferable, one can become the other. The significance of this being that if there was enough energy round during the big bang, it could be converted into mass giving our universe.

    Sorry if you already know this!

  3. “…one gram of mass can give enough energy for over 1 billion people throughout their lifetime” – I like that – good perspective and more than a little awesome.

    I’m still not sure what the energy is, though; I guess I’m really asking what there was before the big bang, but that may not be too useful a question given our current state of knowledge!

    • I’m not so sure myself. All I know is that there are different forms of energy (electrical, kinetic, gravitational etc. etc.)

      In a weird way energy is kind of nothing, as it’s not really made of matter (but then again what is matter?)

      so when they say the world was made from nothing… it was made from energy? Does there need to be something before that? This is the bit where I put my hands up and say ‘”me no know!”

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