Social Question

Zathura12's avatar

What would happen to this box?

Asked by Zathura12 (68points) December 21st, 2009

Say you took a box the size of a mini fridge out into space. Then you sealed it up out there. Air (Space) tight. Let’s say that the walls of the box are 1inch thick steel. Assuming we magically get it down to sea level on earth, would the box collapse since there is essentially 0 pressure inside?

Wouldn’t technically be a box of nothing?

Going deeper, how can NASA or physicists explain space and it’s nothingness?

Like the box collapses because there is nothing inside, so the only way to have this ‘space’ exist is to keep expanding, but where to?

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35 Answers

SirGoofy's avatar

Remember…..there is no spoon.

MrItty's avatar

The box doesn’t collapse because there’s nothing inside. It collapses because there’s something outside. The air pressure from the surrounding atmosphere crunches it.

Take a look at the recent Mythbusters episode about the sea diver who lost pressure equality in his diving suit. The differences in pressure cause the body to be “sucked” into the null space. Same concept.

Zathura12's avatar

Well it’s from both. Lacking something inside and the pressure from the outside.

But still nothing in a box? It just sounds wrong.

MrItty's avatar

@Zathura12 why? What’s sounding wrong about that? Have you ever owned a thermos? This is exactly how they work, via a vacuum. There’s a lack of anything between the two layers. There’s nothing in between the two. That’s how hot beverages stay hot and cold stay cold. They’re in use all the time. There’s nothing unusual about a vacuum.

Buttonstc's avatar


You say, “Nothing in a box…It just sounds wrong”

But “d—- in a box” is just plain hilarious and Justin Timberlake is a genius.


Zathura12's avatar

Outer space has very low density and pressure, and is the closest physical approximation of a perfect vacuum. It has effectively no friction, allowing stars, planets and moons to move freely along ideal gravitational trajectories. But no vacuum is truly perfect, not even in interstellar space, where there are still a few hydrogen atoms per cubic centimetre.

Got it.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

As @MrItty said it’s the pressure from the outside the box that will be the governing factor. Depending of course on the type of steel used and how well the joints are made (weld quality) the box may or may not remain intact. A good high-tensile strength steel and proper welds with that one-inch wall thickness it will probably survive.

Jemznova's avatar

The pressure of the water would ultimately crush the space inside, but then again we do not know the true mass of the supposed space inside. So in reality on cannot say what will happen, it will have to be TESTED!

jahono's avatar

1 inch steel would probably survive, its only a Pressure difference of 101 kPa across the box walls (depending on dimensions, materials and construction) But you seem more confused about the idea of “a box of nothing”. There is nothing strange about this, Even though you say there are a couple of H atoms per cubic cm, that is an average and you could still get a box with nothing inside. For a while anyway before diffusion of gas through the steel walls.

Funnily enough though, (forgive me forgetting the resource) space is not constantly empty. There are constantly particles and their antiparticles being created out of empty space, this is what hawking radiation derives from: there is an exact distance from a black hole where when these particle/antiparticle pairs are seperated one is sucked in and one escapes, the antiparticles which are sucked in would rejoin with matter inside and cancel it out, reducing the blackholes mass. more info: wiki hawking radiation

Strauss's avatar

@MrItty the thermos works because there is air between the bottle and the outside of the box, which acts as an insulator. This is the same principle used with double paned windows.

MrItty's avatar

@Yetanotheruser false. There’s a reason they’re called Vacuum Flasks. Look ‘em up.

Edit: Or at least, good ones use an actual vaccum. The ones that keep your hot food hot for half the day or more. The only points of contact with any covection matter are the stopper at the top. Cheap ones use air, and the heat dissapates much faster.


Strauss's avatar

@MrItty I do see that it’s a partial vacuum, but if you look you’ll see that your article states it’s a partial vacuum.

MrItty's avatar

@Yetanotheruser because, as has been said elsewhere in this thread, a true vacuum is not posible. There’s always some gas molecules floating about somewhere. To say that it’s “air”, though, is simply incorrect. In fact, from that same link:

“the narrow region between the inner and outer wall is evacuated of air.”

Fly's avatar

It would end up in the frizzer…

CMaz's avatar

So the box would have a vacuum in it. In the vacuum of space?

Would it not balance out to being equal. There for no outer or inner pressure.

Why have a need to seal the box?

engineeristerminatorisWOLV's avatar

The box had vacuum inside and when it comes on to teh earth’s surface, the atmospheric pressure is there from outside and there is no couter acting force from inside.Hence, teh atmospheric pressure crushes the box.You can do the experiment with a tin box sealed from all side and water inside it being boiled and when all the steam escapes,it gets crushed.

grumpyfish's avatar

As @jahono said, there’s about 1 atom per cubic centimeter in space (more in Low Earth Orbit), but yes, the pressure differential is about 101kPa.

That’s about 15psi (14.696, but we’ll call it 15), a minifridge is about 2’x3’, so the long wall of the box would have around 13,000 pounds evenly distributed on it. If we just look at the short span (2’), we have 540 pli.

If my math is right (it’s probably not), the sides are going to deflect a maximum of ¼”, and it’s not going to crush.

What’s in the box? If it’s 2×2x3, you have about 5.642544×10^-19 mol of hydrogen atoms in it. That’s vs. about 15 mol if you had filled a similar volume at sea level, or about 26583750000000000000 times less atoms in the box.

grumpyfish's avatar

As for the more general question about the nature of space—there is air around earth (at sea level, at 14.696 psi) because of earth’s gravitational pull. That is, the air is kept here by the earth’s pull.

As we get to a higher and higher altitude, there is less and less air—the mesosphere, at around 50–100km above the earth’s surface has an atmospheric pressure of 5.738×10^-4 psi.

Once you get above the thermosphere (a very low density area out to about 1000km) you’re in the exosphere, which is a nebulously defined area: “The upper boundary of the exosphere can be defined theoretically by the altitude about 190,000 kilometres (120,000 mi), half the distance to the Moon) at which the influence of solar radiation pressure on atomic hydrogen velocities exceeds that of the Earth’s gravitational pull.” (from Wikipedia) —that is, the point at which the solar wind blows the atmosphere away, is the edge of our atmosphere.

ScienceDude's avatar

I have a bell jar and a vacuum pump that makes a very good vacuum. Nothing happens to it. A 1 inch thick steel box would undoubtedly survive.

ninjacolin's avatar

that box is an armored alien aircraft and it needs to be shot down from the sky!!

ninjacolin's avatar

lol, no, that one was cool.

nebule's avatar

you guys are just way toooo clever lurve to you all!

CyanoticWasp's avatar

The steel box does not have to be so massively constructed. The Space Shuttle is a pressurized box that we send into space—the opposite of the proposed thought experiment—and it certainly doesn’t have that kind of overbuilt construction.

Another example of such a vessel would be a submarine, except that operating at the pressures and depths that they operate in routinely, they do have that type of construction.

Any box or jar (“vessel” in technical terms) that could handle up to 7 psi (pounds per square inch—or the metric equivalent)—while containing a vacuum—would do. Most any sealed jar from a supermarket, for example, is drawing a vacuum—even if they aren’t “jars of nothing” (except that marshmallow fluff shit), they all have a vacuum.

Pazza's avatar

Never a true’a word said in jest!...

Pazza's avatar

(Found in a strange place inside my head!)
It has occured to me that no one is going to read all this!......


I stumbled across somebody else trying to come to terms with the apparent infinite vastness of space whilst randomly watching vidies on Google. Though I can’t remember the guys name what stuck in my mind was the kindred thought of lines radiating from a central point.

Main Stream science to date (so far as I know) states that space is infinite, but that there is a finite amount of energy in the universe. This to me was very logical and I found myself at ease with this apparent fact, as one could always argue that it must be, for instance, if you’re traveling along in empty space in any given direction and there is a finite amount of energy in the universe and all this energy resides within a given radius, then to bump into something outside of this radius would mean you just hit something, this ‘something’ would have to be made of ‘something’ and therefore
would contain energy of one form or another, thus increasing the total amount of energy in the universe, and since that had been shown to be finite, this could not be the case, you therefore couldn’t have hit anything and would continue on your merry way forever.


Niggling away in the back of my mind like a splinter in your finger, (you know the ones, they pretend that they’re not actually there until you brush over them lightly, and send you into a hunting frenzy) was gravity. You might well be thinking, how the fuck did you go from empty space to gravity? Well I asked myself the same question (in the padded cell of my subconscious) and came up with this:

If space is empty, how the hell do objects attract each other with eons of this empty nothingness between them? And then for no apparent reason into my head popped this random thought, “maybe they’re not attracting each other, but being pushed together”. This random thought opened a pandora’s box of mental splinters.

Was there something actually pushing them together, and if so how much of this stuff was there. And if this stuff surrounded all matter in space why hadn’t it dissipated out into the vastness of empty space. And if so, did this mean that in infinite space there was an infinite amount of energy, or was there actually a boundary to space, like a perfect bubble trapping air under pressure. A pandora’s box of
mental splinters had just exploded in my head!

What I was now thinking was that if space isn’t really empty, but full of energy, energy that we cannot see smell or touch, and that matter displaced itself into this sea of energy in much the same way any object displaces its own weight in water, that this could in some way explain gravity.

Let me try to explain. If you try to visualize a ball, and surrounding that ball is a field of energy which stretches out enveloping the whole surface area of the ball, kind of like Earth’s atmosphere, closest to the ball the energy is at its thickest, and as you travel away from the balls surface the energy gets thinner and thinner just like the Earth’s atmosphere until eventually at its outer limit it is infinitely thin.

Now, drop the ball into the sea of energy in space as you would a ball into water, the ball now creates a pocket, a hole where is resides. Now imagine if you can the energy field around the ball also creating a pocket in space pushing the space further away from the surface of the ball, but as the energy field enveloping the ball becomes ever thinner, its ability to displace space diminishes, and in the thinner densities of the balls outer energy field space starts to creep in. To picture this concept, imagine when you run a bath of hot water, at the top of the bath the water is at its hottest, but as you push your hand deeper into the water it becomes cooler, but this cooling isn’t instantaneous, it is gradual. I suppose you could liken the energy field around the ball as the hot water, and the spacial energy field as the cold water, eventually you will reach a point where hot water is now at its coolest, so cool that it’s now the same temperature as the cold water. The only difference between the water analogy and the energy field analogy is that instead of temperature change, there would be pressure (or density) change.

Carrying this concept on further take two balls and drop them into the spacial energy field, where the two outer reaches of the balls energy fields lay is what science calls an ‘Event Horizon’, the point at which the densities of the spacial field and the balls energy field start to change. Now push the balls closer together until the two ‘Event Horizons’ touch. At this point if you left the balls alone, they would stay put and not move. However the instant you push the balls past each others ‘Event Horizon’ the spacial
field becomes less dense. The higher densities of space either side of the two balls now pushes them into the less dense space in the middle of the two balls creating an apparent attraction between the two objects. This apparent attraction becomes an acceleration as the ever decreasing density of space between the two balls is encroached upon until eventually the two balls collide, creating the visual effect of gravity.

Now this for me, was a big ‘Holy Shit’ moment, the only problem left was the apparent infiniteness of space and energy. But that would have to wait for another random bubble of rubbish to float past in the bowls of my subconscious….......

Many weeks went by, and for a time I had had to come to terms with the latest splinter and tried to ignore it. Until…...... At last another bubble was coming into focus, but could I trap it long enough to see what was going on inside?

As a design engineer, and working with a drawing package called AutoCAD I was constantly aware that you can quite easily create an imaginary world within the cyberspace of the computers processor and memory chips. Within a drawing package you can create a whole world with material densities, and rules which can very closely imitate the laws of physics, intricate moving parts can be created in an endless infinite virtual universe, but a universe that doesn’t really exist anywhere at all. What also struck me was this. Imagine drawing a line a specific length, say 1000mm long, this line is infinitely thin and perfectly straight, now using your AutoCAD drawing utilities you can grab hold of one end of the line and stretch it to make it longer or shorter. What I noticed was that if you were to stretch the line and make it shorter by exactly 1000mm the line doesn’t disappear, but now becomes a line with infinite thinness,
and infinitely small in length, in fact it now has no length at all. It now is what I call a ‘Node Point’, node being the term that AutoCAD actually gives to the same point at the end of a dimension line.

Now you’re probably wondering what the hell this node point has to do with this whole ramble? Well I’m getting to it, just stick with me a bit longer.

Going back in time if you will!..... to the start of this latest rant, you may remember this clever dude I mentioned who was trying to get a handle on how space can be infinite and yet full of energy. The way he tried to explain it was as follows, imagine a point in space and from this point, beams of light are emitted, they come off at uniform angles of say five degrees, and as they radiate from the central point they are very close together and there is little or no space between them at all, but the further away from the centre you go space is created between the lines until eventually out in the deepest reaches of infinity there would be an infinite amount of space between the lines. Now if space were infinite but containing a finite amount of energy how could this energy possibly fill it. The energy would become so dilute that it would be as useful as a bottle of homeopathic water!

However, if space were only a perception, and the distance between everything in the universe was merely due to the interaction of an infinite soup of resonating energy with no volume, then could it not exist the same way as the virtual worlds we create everyday in the cyberspace of computers?
As a single ‘Node Point In Nothingness’.......

EdMayhew's avatar


Who mentioned anything about water? He said bring it down to sea level, not plunge it into the depths of the ocean.


delta214's avatar

So what your saying is the cat is both dead and living?

ninjacolin's avatar

sounds like a dark matter explanation, pazza

Strauss's avatar

@delta214 there’s that damn cat again!

Pazza's avatar

Space is not a true vacuum, hanse the reason they just spend billions on the LHC looking for the Higg’s Boson (tho I doubt they’l find the bugger!)

Anyway, if space were a true vacuum, what do radio waves travel in?
You can’t associate something with nothing.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@Pazza, an accident of naming if there ever was one. If it were the Higg’s Bosom, we would have not only found it by now, but kids would be scratching it on desktops from here to Pakistan.

grumpyfish's avatar

@Pazza Radio waves don’t need a medium to travel through—they can travel without the aether in particle form.

Pazza's avatar

Thats assuming that the theory of a particle also being a wave is correct. (I know about the double slit experiment, I just think its a wave until its observed).

I would say that the radio wave is a pressure wave travelling through the aether.
(that may well be complete bullshit I don’t know, but thats how my mind visualises it)

grumpyfish's avatar

@Pazza I think if any part of the wave-particle duality is to be questioned, it’s the wave part =)

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