Why the Universe Is Mostly Empty Space

Updated on July 27, 2017
Glenn Stok profile image

With a Master of Science degree, cosmology is one of my many interests. The study of the universe brings me to thoughts of how we fit in.

There is a vast amount of space between planets and between the galaxies. There is also enormous empty space between the electrons of atoms.

No matter if we look out toward the heavens, or if we look deep within atoms and molecules, we will find mostly empty space.

I'll take you on an illustrative tour both outward and inward. Let's start with a quick review of where we are in the Universe.

Our planet Earth is the third from the Sun in our solar system, and our solar system is off to one side of our Milky Way Galaxy. When we look up on a clear night, we can see a band of milky white stars. That band of stars is the other end of our galaxy. That's why we call it the Milky Way.

It wasn't very long ago when it was sill believed that the Earth was flat and that it was the center of the universe. We definitely have come a long way in a few hundred years, and we know a lot more now.

What We Already Know About Our Solar System and the Universe

  • We know the gravitational pull of our Moon effects our tides.
  • We know that Solar Flares can affect our radio communications and electronics.
  • We know that the Earth does not take exactly 365 1/4 days to go around the Sun. Besides adding a day every four years with a leap year, we have to skip a leap year every hundred years. We also need to adjust the calendar with leap seconds added every so often.
  • We already know that the Universe is expanding. We have the technology to record distances and movements of other bodies in space. Based on these measurements, we can tell that everything is moving apart. Actually, moving away from one central point which could indicate the origin of The Big Bang.

The Universe is mostly empty and may be endless.
The Universe is mostly empty and may be endless. | Source

If the expansion did start from one single point, then does that imply there was a “beginning?”

If there was a beginning, then what existed before the beginning? How long did that vast nothingness of non-existence last?

If it was all nothingness, then how can we say it lasted for any length of time? Maybe time itself did not exist. Would that make it easier to answer the question?

The Universe may have no end in sight. If we travel to the ends of the Universe or if we travel deep within to find unknown subatomic particles, we may discover a limitless journey.

It might be easier to answer the prior question by saying that there was no beginning, and there will be no end. The concept of infinity truly helps with our interpretation of the Universe, which brings me on to my next point.

The Emptiness of Matter

We can travel to the ends of the Universe only to discover that there may be no end. This is hard for the human mind to conceive. We tend to want to place end-points on anything physical, since the notion of infinity is somewhat incomprehensible.

No matter what technology we develop to reach out into space, we are limited with the problems of distance and the speed of light.

We can send robotic missions out to space that send back information about their discoveries. However, the further we reach out, the longer it takes for the signals to return to Earth. Eventually it becomes impossible to reach any further In a finite time period, limiting our ability to gain further knowledge of outer space.

We do know that there is some form of energy field that spreads throughout the entire Universe. Dr. Peter Higgs proposed this idea in 1964. A new discovery by atom smashing physicists on July 4th, 2012, is named after him.

The frontier of space may be considered to be the ends of the Universe. However, we can discover an entire unexplored world if we travel inward, within inner-space.

What is the Difference Between Outer Space and Inner Space?

Ever since the Big Band, it is assumed that the Universe is a bubble with a radius of 13.6 billion light years. However, we really don't know if there are any limits at all. The Universe might be infinite, as I discussed earlier.

If we can go endlessly outward, there might also be no limit to how far we can go inward. This is another frontier to examine, one that affects our world just as much as all the objects in outer space.

Inner Space is just as massive and limitless, and it has yet to be fully discovered and understood.

Today we have the ability to go deeper and deeper into inner space with new technology already in existence. We have instruments that can visualize individual atoms, but we can go even deeper than that!

With a new breakthrough discovery on July 4th, 2012 at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland, scientists believe they have discovered a subatomic particle, known as Higgs Boson (named after Dr. Peter Higgs who I mentioned earlier).

The Higgs Boson particles might explain why objects have mass. The more mass objects have, the more gravitational pull they have on one another.

Higgs Boson subatomic particle discovered on July 4th, 2012

The Sun “holds” the Earth and all the other planets in their orbits. In addition, all planets in our solar system pull on one another, causing minor fluctuations of their orbits. Even our Moon causes the Earth to wiggle. Did you feel that?

We might say that to some infinitesimal degree, every object in all the other galaxies has some form of effect on objects close to home.

As vast as outer space is, inner space is just as vast. There is mostly nothing in it and therefore there’s a lot of room.

Just to give you an idea of how far apart the parts of an atom are, if one were to enlarge a single atom to be the size of our solar system, the electrons going around the nucleus would be equivalent to the planets going around the Sun.

There is mostly empty space deep within, so much empty space that you might be able to take the entire Universe and squeeze it into a small ball. Then keep squeezing it until you get down to a point, a point so small that has no dimension. No width, length or height. After all, if the Big Bang did occur, that may be the “point” we all started from.

We can go even deeper inward. Inside the nucleus of atoms we already have discovered Quarks, which have more mass than the electrons around the nucleus, even though a Quark is smaller in size.

There is so much more to learn about our Universe. Going deeper into the empty space of atoms may eventually reveal the true secrets of the Universe and provide a better understanding of the laws of physics.

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Glenn Stok


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      • Glenn Stok profile imageAUTHOR

        Glenn Stok 

        3 years ago from Long Island, NY

        goatfury - It's good to know there are others who think about these things. I appreciate your comment. Thanks.

      • goatfury profile image

        Andrew Smith 

        3 years ago from Richmond, VA

        Great stuff. I really enjoy thinking about this type of stuff, and do so frequently (it's either history or physics, with precious little time for anything else, other than jiu jitsu). Keep it up, Glenn!

      • NateB11 profile image

        Nathan Bernardo 

        7 years ago from California, United States of America

        Absolutely fascinating article. It seems we have much potential for exploration much closer to home. I like this approach and also your evocative and articulate explanations.

      • profile image


        7 years ago

        The final frontier, other than the two possibilities presented here - of an infinite universe and an infinite inner space - could also be of the mind and the soul. Could our minds (as a race and given enough time) continously expand in capabilities? Is death but a gateway to another existence? If so perhaps the mind coupled with our demise in this form is the beginning of a final frontier.

      • Glenn Stok profile imageAUTHOR

        Glenn Stok 

        7 years ago from Long Island, NY

        cclitgirl, Actually, Cyndi, I read about it early this morning. But I didn't think of writing a Hub about it until I read your Q&A question. We must be on the same wavelength (no pun intended). They call the Higgs Boson the God particle because it explains how the universe is tied together. Thanks for selecting this as best answer and for voting up.

      • cclitgirl profile image

        Cynthia Calhoun 

        7 years ago from Western NC

        Way to go on this awesome hub!! That's EXACTLY why I asked the question. :D Did you hear on the news yesterday that these physicists think they found the "god" particle - essentially the potential to reason why we're here? That's what inspired the question. I love that you talked about atoms, too, because, yes, it's like there's infinite space in-between the quarks and waves and all that other stuff. Nice! Voted up and shared.


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