Space

Space is the boundless, three-dimensional extent in which objects and events occur and have relative position and direction. Physical space is often conceived in three lineardimensions, although modern physicists usually consider it, with time, to be part of a boundless four-dimensional continuum known as spacetime. In mathematics one examines “spaces” with different numbers of dimensions and with different underlying structures. The concept of space is considered to be of fundamental importance to an understanding of the physical universe although disagreement continues between philosophers over whether it is itself an entity, a relationship between entities, or part of a conceptual framework.

Debates concerning the nature, essence and the mode of existence of space date back to antiquity; namely, to treatises like the Timaeus of Plato, or Socrates in his reflections on what the Greeks called khora (i.e. “space”), or in the Physics of Aristotle (Book IV, Delta) in the definition of topos (i.e. place), or even in the later “geometrical conception of place” as “spacequa extension” in the Discourse on Place (Qawl fi al-Makan) of the 11th century Arab polymath Alhazen. Many of these classical philosophical questions were discussed in the Renaissance and then reformulated in the 17th century, particularly during the early development of classical mechanics. In Isaac Newton’s view, space was absolute – in the sense that it existed permanently and independently of whether there were any matter in the space. Other natural philosophers, notably Gottfried Leibniz, thought instead that space was a collection of relations between objects, given by their distance and direction from one another. In the 18th century, the philosopher and theologian George Berkeley attempted to refute the “visibility of spatial depth” in his Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision. Later, the metaphysician Immanuel Kant said neither space nor time can be empirically perceived, they are elements of a systematic framework that humans use to structure all experiences. Kant referred to “space” in his Critique of Pure Reason as being: a subjective “pure a priori form of intuition”, hence it is an unavoidable contribution of our human faculties.

In the 19th and 20th centuries mathematicians began to examine non-Euclidean geometries, in which space can be said to be curved, rather than flat. According to Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, space around gravitational fields deviates from Euclidean space.Experimental tests of general relativity have confirmed that non-Euclidean space provides a better model for the shape of space.

In 1905, Albert Einstein published a paper on a special theory of relativity, in which he proposed that space and time be combined into a single construct known as spacetime. In this theory, the speed of light in a vacuum is the same for all observers—which has the result that two events that appear simultaneous to one particular observer will not be simultaneous to another observer if the observers are moving with respect to one another. Moreover, an observer will measure a moving clock to tick more slowly than one that is stationary with respect to them; and objects are measured to be shortened in the direction that they are moving with respect to the observer.

Over the following ten years Einstein worked on a general theory of relativity, which is a theory of how gravity interacts with spacetime. Instead of viewing gravity as a force field acting in spacetime, Einstein suggested that it modifies the geometric structure of spacetime itself. According to the general theory, time goes more slowly at places with lower gravitational potentials and rays of light bend in the presence of a gravitational field. Scientists have studied the behaviour of binary pulsars, confirming the predictions of Einstein’s theories and non-Euclidean geometry is usually used to describe spacetime.

A galaxy is a massive, gravitationally bound system that consists of stars and stellar remnants, an interstellar medium of gas and dust, and an important but poorly understood component tentatively dubbed dark matter. The word galaxy is derived from the Greek galaxias (γαλαξίας), literally “milky”, a reference to the Milky Way galaxy. Examples of galaxies range fromdwarfs with as few as ten million (107) stars to giants with a hundred trillion (1014) stars, each orbiting their galaxy’s owncenter of mass.

Galaxies contain varying amounts of star systems, star clusters and types of interstellar clouds. In between these objects is a sparse interstellar medium of gas, dust, and cosmic rays. Dark matter appears to account for around 90% of the mass of most galaxies. Observational data suggests that supermassive black holes may exist at the center of many, if not all, galaxies. They are thought to be the primary driver of active galactic nuclei found at the core of some galaxies. The Milky Way galaxy appears to harbor at least one such object.

Galaxies have been historically categorized according to their apparent shape; usually referred to as their visual morphology. A common form is the elliptical galaxy,  which has an ellipse-shaped light profile. Spiral galaxies are disk-shaped with dusty, curving arms. Those with irregular or unusual shapes are known as irregular galaxies and typically originate from disruption by the gravitational pull of neighboring galaxies. Such interactions between nearby galaxies, which may ultimately result in a merging, sometimes induce significantly increased incidents of star formation leading to starburst galaxies. Smaller galaxies lacking a coherent structure are referred to as irregular galaxies.

There are probably more than 170 billion (1.7 × 1011) galaxies in the observable universe.  Most are 1,000 to 100,000 parsecs in diameter and usually separated by distances on the order of millions of parsecs (or megaparsecs). Intergalactic space (the space between galaxies) is filled with a tenuous gas of an average density less than one atom per cubic meter. The majority of galaxies are organized into a hierarchy of associations known as groups and clusters, which, in turn usually form larger superclusters. At the largest scale, these associations are generally arranged into sheets and filaments, which are surrounded by immense voids.

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