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A vacuum is a
space Space is the boundless three-dimensional Three-dimensional space (also: 3-space or, rarely, tri-dimensional space) is a geometric setting in which three values (called parameter A parameter (from the Ancient Greek language, Ancient Gre ...

space
devoid of
matter In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be touched are ultimately composed of atoms, which are made up of interacting subatomic particl ...
. The word is derived from the Latin adjective ''vacuus'' for "vacant" or "
void Void may refer to: Science, engineering, and technology * Void (astronomy) Cosmic voids are vast spaces between filaments (the largest-scale structures in the universe The universe ( la, universus) is all of space and time and their c ...
". An approximation to such vacuum is a region with a gaseous
pressure Pressure (symbol: ''p'' or ''P'') is the force In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space ...

pressure
much less than
atmospheric pressure Atmospheric pressure, also known as barometric pressure (after the barometer A barometer is a scientific instrument that is used to measure air pressure in a certain environment. Pressure tendency can forecast short term changes in the weather. ...
. Physicists often discuss ideal test results that would occur in a ''perfect'' vacuum, which they sometimes simply call "vacuum" or free space, and use the term partial vacuum to refer to an actual imperfect vacuum as one might have in a
laboratory A laboratory (; ; colloquially lab) is a facility that provides controlled conditions in which or technological research, s, and may be performed. Laboratory services are provided in a variety of settings: physicians' offices, clinics, hos ...

laboratory
or in
space Space is the boundless three-dimensional Three-dimensional space (also: 3-space or, rarely, tri-dimensional space) is a geometric setting in which three values (called parameter A parameter (from the Ancient Greek language, Ancient Gre ...
. In engineering and applied physics on the other hand, vacuum refers to any space in which the pressure is considerably lower than atmospheric pressure. The Latin term ''in vacuo'' is used to describe an object that is surrounded by a vacuum. The ''quality'' of a partial vacuum refers to how closely it approaches a perfect vacuum. Other things equal, lower gas
pressure Pressure (symbol: ''p'' or ''P'') is the force In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space ...

pressure
means higher-quality vacuum. For example, a typical
vacuum cleaner A vacuum cleaner, also known simply as a vacuum or a hoover, is a device that causes suction in order to remove dirt from floors, upholstery, draperies, and other surfaces. It is generally electrically driven. The dirt is collected by either a d ...

vacuum cleaner
produces enough
suction Suction is the colloquial term to describe the air pressure Pressure (symbol: ''p'' or ''P'') is the force In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''ph ...
to reduce air pressure by around 20%. But higher-quality vacuums are possible.
Ultra-high vacuum Ultra-high vacuum (UHV) is the vacuum A vacuum is a space Space is the boundless three-dimensional Three-dimensional space (also: 3-space or, rarely, tri-dimensional space) is a geometric setting in which three values (called paramete ...
chambers, common in chemistry, physics, and engineering, operate below one trillionth (10−12) of atmospheric pressure (100 nPa), and can reach around 100 particles/cm3.
Outer space Outer space, commonly shortened to space, is the expanse that exists beyond Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour and support life. 29.2% of Earth's surface is land consisting ...
is an even higher-quality vacuum, with the equivalent of just a few hydrogen atoms per cubic meter on average in intergalactic space. This source estimates a density of for the
Local Group Local group may refer to: * The Local Group Distribution of the iron content (in logarithmic scale) in four neighbouring dwarf galaxies of the Milky Way The Local Group is the galaxy group that includes the Milky Way The Milky Way is th ...

Local Group
. An
atomic mass unit The dalton or unified atomic mass unit (symbols: Da or u) is a unit Unit may refer to: Arts and entertainment * UNIT, a fictional military organization in the science fiction television series ''Doctor Who'' * Unit of action, a discrete piece of ...
is , for roughly 40 atoms per cubic meter.
Vacuum has been a frequent topic of
philosophical Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence Existence is the ability of an entity to interact with physical or mental reality Reality is the sum or aggregate of all that is real o ...

philosophical
debate since ancient
Greek#REDIRECT Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million as of ...
times, but was not studied empirically until the 17th century.
Evangelista Torricelli Evangelista Torricelli ( , also , ; 15 October 160825 October 1647) was an Italian Italian may refer to: * Anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Italy ** Italians, an ethnic group or simply a citizen of the Italian Republic ...

Evangelista Torricelli
produced the first laboratory vacuum in 1643, and other experimental techniques were developed as a result of his theories of
atmospheric pressure Atmospheric pressure, also known as barometric pressure (after the barometer A barometer is a scientific instrument that is used to measure air pressure in a certain environment. Pressure tendency can forecast short term changes in the weather. ...
. A Torricellian vacuum is created by filling a tall glass container closed at one end with mercury, and then inverting it in a bowl to contain the mercury (see below). Vacuum became a valuable industrial tool in the 20th century with the introduction of
incandescent light bulb An incandescent light bulb, incandescent lamp or incandescent light globe is an with a wire heated until it glows. The filament is enclosed in a glass bulb with a vacuum or inert gas to protect the filament from . Current is supplied to the ...

incandescent light bulb
s and
vacuum tube A vacuum tube, electron tube, valve (British usage), or tube (North America), is a device that controls electric current flow in a high vacuum between electrodes to which an electric voltage, potential difference has been applied. The type kn ...
s, and a wide array of vacuum technologies has since become available. The development of
human spaceflight Human spaceflight (also referred to as manned spaceflight or crewed spaceflight) is spaceflight Spaceflight (or space flight) is an application of astronautics to fly spacecraft into or through outer space, either human spaceflight, with o ...

human spaceflight
has raised interest in the impact of vacuum on human health, and on life forms in general.


Etymology

The word ''vacuum'' comes , noun use of neuter of ''vacuus'', meaning "empty", related to ''vacare'', meaning "to be empty". ''Vacuum'' is one of the few words in the English language that contains two consecutive letters .


Historical understanding

Historically, there has been much dispute over whether such a thing as a vacuum can exist. Ancient
Greek philosophers Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BC, at a time when the inhabitants of ancient Greece were struggling to repel devastating invasions from the east. Greek philosophy continued throughout the Hellenistic period The Hellenistic pe ...
debated the existence of a vacuum, or void, in the context of
atomism Atomism (from Greek Greek may refer to: Greece Anything of, from, or related to Greece Greece ( el, Ελλάδα, , ), officially the Hellenic Republic, is a country located in Southeast Europe. Its population is approximately 10.7 million ...
, which posited void and atom as the fundamental explanatory elements of physics. Following
Plato Plato ( ; grc-gre, Πλάτων ; 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was an Classical Athens, Athenian philosopher during the Classical Greece, Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thought and the Platoni ...

Plato
, even the abstract concept of a featureless void faced considerable skepticism: it could not be apprehended by the senses, it could not, itself, provide additional explanatory power beyond the physical volume with which it was commensurate and, by definition, it was quite literally nothing at all, which cannot rightly be said to exist.
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questio ...

Aristotle
believed that no void could occur naturally, because the denser surrounding material continuum would immediately fill any incipient rarity that might give rise to a void. In his ''
Physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. "Physical scie ...
'', book IV, Aristotle offered numerous arguments against the void: for example, that motion through a medium which offered no impediment could continue ''ad infinitum'', there being no reason that something would come to rest anywhere in particular. Although
Lucretius Titus Lucretius Carus ( , ; 99 – c. 55 BC) was a Ancient Rome, Roman Roman literature, poet and Ancient Roman philosophy, philosopher. His only known work is the philosophical poem ''De rerum natura'', a didactic work about the tenets and ...
argued for the existence of vacuum in the first century BC and
Hero of Alexandria Hero of Alexandria (; grc-gre, Ἥρων ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς, ''Heron ho Alexandreus'', also known as Heron of Alexandria ; c. 10 AD – c. 70 AD), was a Greek mathematician and engineer who was active in his native city of Alexandria, R ...

Hero of Alexandria
tried unsuccessfully to create an artificial vacuum in the first century AD. In the medieval
Muslim world The terms Muslim world and Islamic world commonly refer to the Islamic Islam (;There are ten pronunciations of ''Islam'' in English, differing in whether the first or second syllable has the stress, whether the ''s'' is or , and whether ...

Muslim world
, the physicist and Islamic scholar
Al-Farabi Abu Nasr Al-Farabi (; '; known in the West 250px, A compass rose with west highlighted in black West or Occident is one of the four cardinal directions or points of the compass The points of the compass are the vectors by which planet-base ...

Al-Farabi
wrote a treatise rejecting the existence of the vacuum in the 10th century. He concluded that air's volume can expand to fill available space, and therefore the concept of a perfect vacuum was incoherent. According to Nader El-Bizri, the physicist
Ibn al-Haytham Ḥasan Ibn al-Haytham (Latinization of names, Latinized as Alhazen ; full name ; ) was a Muslim Arab Mathematics in medieval Islam, mathematician, Astronomy in the medieval Islamic world, astronomer, and Physics in the medieval Islamic world, ...

Ibn al-Haytham
and the Mu'tazili
theologians Theology is the systematic study of the nature of the Divinity, divine and, more broadly, of religious belief. It is taught as an Discipline (academia), academic discipline, typically in universities and seminaries. It occupies itself with the un ...

theologians
disagreed with Aristotle and Al-Farabi, and they supported the existence of a void. Using
geometry Geometry (from the grc, γεωμετρία; ' "earth", ' "measurement") is, with , one of the oldest branches of . It is concerned with properties of space that are related with distance, shape, size, and relative position of figures. A mat ...

geometry
, Ibn al-Haytham mathematically demonstrated that place (''al-makan'') is the imagined three-dimensional void between the inner surfaces of a containing body. According to Ahmad Dallal,
Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī Abu Rayhan al-Biruni (973 – after 1050) was an Iranian Iranian may refer to: * Iran Iran ( fa, ایران ), also called Persia and officially the Islamic Republic of Iran ( fa, جمهوری اسلامی ایران ), is a co ...
also states that "there is no observable evidence that rules out the possibility of vacuum". The
suction Suction is the colloquial term to describe the air pressure Pressure (symbol: ''p'' or ''P'') is the force In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''ph ...
pump A pump is a device that moves fluids (liquid A liquid is a nearly incompressible In fluid mechanics or more generally continuum mechanics, incompressible flow (isochoric process, isochoric flow) refers to a fluid flow, flow in which the ...

pump
was described by Arab engineer
Al-Jazari Badīʿ az-Zaman Abu l-ʿIzz ibn Ismāʿīl ibn ar-Razāz al-Jazarī (1136–1206, ar, بديع الزمان أَبُ اَلْعِزِ إبْنُ إسْماعِيلِ إبْنُ الرِّزاز الجزري,), ) was a Muslim polymath ...
in the 13th century, and later appeared in Europe from the 15th century.
Donald Routledge Hill Donald Routledge Hill (6 August 1922 – 30 May 1994)D. A. King, “In Memoriam: Donald Routledge Hill (1922-1994)”, ''Arabic Sciences and Philosophy,'' Volume 5 / Issue 02 / September 1995, pp 297-302 was a British engineer Engineers, as prac ...
, "Mechanical Engineering in the Medieval Near East", ''Scientific American'', May 1991, pp. 64–69 (
cf. The abbreviation ''cf.'' (short for the la, confer/conferatur, both meaning 'compare') is used in writing to refer the reader to other material to make a comparison with the topic being discussed. Style guides recommend that ''cf.'' be used only ...
Donald Routledge Hill Donald Routledge Hill (6 August 1922 – 30 May 1994)D. A. King, “In Memoriam: Donald Routledge Hill (1922-1994)”, ''Arabic Sciences and Philosophy,'' Volume 5 / Issue 02 / September 1995, pp 297-302 was a British engineer Engineers, as prac ...

Mechanical Engineering
)
European
scholars A scholar is a person who pursues academic and intellectual activities, particularly academics who apply their intellectualism into expertise in an area of Studying, study. A scholar can also be an academic, who works as a professor, teacher, or r ...
such as
Roger Bacon Roger Bacon (; la, Rogerus or ', also '' Rogerus''; ), also known by the scholastic accolade It was customary in the European Middle Ages, more precisely in the period of scholasticism which extended into early modern times, to designate th ...
, Blasius of Parma and
Walter Burley Walter Burley (or Burleigh; c. 1275–1344/5) was an English scholastic philosopher and logician with at least 50 works attributed to him. He studied under Thomas WiltonHarjeet Singh Gill, ''Signification in language and culture'', Indian Instit ...
in the 13th and 14th century focused considerable attention on issues concerning the concept of a vacuum. Eventually following
Stoic physics Stoic physics refers to the natural philosophy of the Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece Ancient Greece ( el, Ἑλλάς, Hellás) was a civilization belonging to a period of History of Greece, Greek history from the Greek Dark Ages of the ...
in this instance, scholars from the 14th century onward increasingly departed from the Aristotelian perspective in favor of a
supernatural The supernatural encompasses supposed phenomena or entities that are not subject to the Scientific law, laws of nature. This term is attributed to non-physical entity, non-physical entities, such as angels, demons, gods, and ghost, spirits. It ...

supernatural
void beyond the confines of the cosmos itself, a conclusion widely acknowledged by the 17th century, which helped to segregate natural and theological concerns. Almost two thousand years after Plato,
René Descartes René Descartes ( or ; ; Latinized Latinisation or Latinization can refer to: * Latinisation of names, the practice of rendering a non-Latin name in a Latin style * Latinisation in the Soviet Union, the campaign in the USSR during the 1920s ...

René Descartes
also proposed a geometrically based alternative theory of atomism, without the problematic nothing–everything
dichotomy 200px, In this image, the universal set U (the entire rectangle) is dichotomized into the two sets A (in pink) and its complement Ac (in grey). A dichotomy is a partition of a set, partition of a whole (or a set) into two parts (subsets). In oth ...

dichotomy
of void and atom. Although Descartes agreed with the contemporary position, that a vacuum does not occur in nature, the success of his namesake coordinate system and more implicitly, the spatial–corporeal component of his metaphysics would come to define the philosophically modern notion of empty space as a quantified extension of volume. By the ancient definition however, directional information and magnitude were conceptually distinct. Medieval
thought experiment A thought experiment is a hypothetical situation in which a hypothesis A hypothesis (plural hypotheses) is a proposed explanation for a phenomenon. For a hypothesis to be a scientific hypothesis, the scientific method requires that one can t ...
s into the idea of a vacuum considered whether a vacuum was present, if only for an instant, between two flat plates when they were rapidly separated. There was much discussion of whether the air moved in quickly enough as the plates were separated, or, as
Walter Burley Walter Burley (or Burleigh; c. 1275–1344/5) was an English scholastic philosopher and logician with at least 50 works attributed to him. He studied under Thomas WiltonHarjeet Singh Gill, ''Signification in language and culture'', Indian Instit ...
postulated, whether a 'celestial agent' prevented the vacuum arising. The commonly held view that nature abhorred a vacuum was called ''
horror vacui In visual art, horror vacui (, ; ) or kenophobia (from ) is the filling of the entire surface of a space or an artwork with detail. In physics, '' horror vacui'' reflects Aristotle's idea that "nature abhors an empty space." Origins Italian ...
''. There was even speculation that even God could not create a vacuum if he wanted and the 1277 Paris condemnations of
Bishop A bishop is an ordained, consecrated, or appointed member of the Clergy#Christianity, Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Moravian Chu ...

Bishop
Etienne Tempier, which required there to be no restrictions on the powers of God, led to the conclusion that God could create a vacuum if he so wished.
Jean Buridan Jean Buridan (; Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of the Ro ...
reported in the 14th century that teams of ten horses could not pull open
bellows A bellow or pair of bellows is a device constructed to furnish a strong blast of air File:Atmosphere gas proportions.svg, Composition of Earth's atmosphere by volume, excluding water vapor. Lower pie represents trace gases that together comp ...

bellows
when the port was sealed. The 17th century saw the first attempts to quantify measurements of partial vacuum.
Evangelista Torricelli Evangelista Torricelli ( , also , ; 15 October 160825 October 1647) was an Italian Italian may refer to: * Anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Italy ** Italians, an ethnic group or simply a citizen of the Italian Republic ...

Evangelista Torricelli
's
mercury Mercury usually refers to: * Mercury (planet) Mercury is the smallest planet in the Solar System and the closest to the Sun. Its orbit around the Sun takes 87.97 Earth days, the shortest of all the Sun's planets. It is named after the Roman g ...

mercury
barometer A barometer is a scientific instrument that is used to measure air pressure in a certain environment. Pressure tendency can forecast short term changes in the weather. Many measurements of air pressure are used within surface weather analysis to ...

barometer
of 1643 and
Blaise Pascal Blaise Pascal ( , , ; ; 19 June 1623 – 19 August 1662) was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, philosopher, writer and Catholic Church, Catholic theologian. He was a child prodigy who was educated by his father, a tax collector i ...

Blaise Pascal
's experiments both demonstrated a partial vacuum. In 1654,
Otto von Guericke Otto von Guericke ( , , ; spelled Gericke until 1666; November 20, 1602 – May 11, 1686 Julian_calendar">nowiki/>Julian_calendar.html" ;"title="Julian_calendar.html" ;"title="nowiki/>Julian calendar">nowiki/>Julian calendar">Julian_calendar.h ...

Otto von Guericke
invented the first
vacuum pump A vacuum pump is a device that draws gas Gas is one of the four fundamental states of matter In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), ...

vacuum pump
and conducted his famous
Magdeburg hemispheres 's sketch of Otto von Guericke's Magdeburg hemispheres experiment. The Magdeburg hemispheres are a pair of large copper hemispheres, with mating rims. They were used to demonstrate the power of atmospheric pressure Atmospheric pressure, also know ...

Magdeburg hemispheres
experiment, showing that, owing to atmospheric pressure outside the hemispheres, teams of horses could not separate two hemispheres from which the air had been partially evacuated.
Robert Boyle Robert Boyle (; 25 January 1627 – 31 December 1691) was an Anglo-Irish Anglo-Irish () is a term which was more commonly used in the 19th and early 20th centuries to identify an ethnic group An ethnic group or ethnicity is a group ...

Robert Boyle
improved Guericke's design and with the help of
Robert Hooke Robert Hooke FRS FRS may also refer to: Government and politics * Facility Registry System, a centrally managed Environmental Protection Agency database that identifies places of environmental interest in the United States * Family Resources ...
further developed vacuum pump technology. Thereafter, research into the partial vacuum lapsed until 1850 when invented the Toepler Pump and in 1855 when
Heinrich GeisslerHeinrich may refer to: People * Heinrich (given name) Heinrich is a German name, German given name of ancient Germanic origin and cognate of ''Henry (given name), Henry''. Female forms are ''Henrike'' and ''Henriette''. The most famous patron sa ...

Heinrich Geissler
invented the mercury displacement pump, achieving a partial vacuum of about 10 Pa (0.1 
Torr The torr (symbol: Torr) is a unit of pressure based on an absolute scale An absolute scale is a system of measurement ' Measurement is the number, numerical quantification (science), quantification of the variable and attribute (research), attri ...
). A number of electrical properties become observable at this vacuum level, which renewed interest in further research. While outer space provides the most rarefied example of a naturally occurring partial vacuum, the heavens were originally thought to be seamlessly filled by a rigid indestructible material called
aetherAether, æther or ether may refer to: Metaphysics and mythology * Aether (classical element), the material supposed to fill the region of the universe above the terrestrial sphere * Aether (mythology), the personification of the "upper sky", spac ...
. Borrowing somewhat from the
pneuma ''Pneuma'' () is an ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiquity, ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It is often roughly divided into the following peri ...
of
Stoic physics Stoic physics refers to the natural philosophy of the Stoic philosophers of ancient Greece Ancient Greece ( el, Ἑλλάς, Hellás) was a civilization belonging to a period of History of Greece, Greek history from the Greek Dark Ages of the ...
, aether came to be regarded as the rarefied air from which it took its name, (see
Aether (mythology) In Greek mythology Greek mythology is the body of myth Myth is a folklore genre Folklore is the expressive body of culture shared by a particular group of people; it encompasses the tradition A tradition is a belief A belie ...
). Early theories of light posited a ubiquitous terrestrial and celestial medium through which light propagated. Additionally, the concept informed
Isaac Newton Sir Isaac Newton (25 December 1642 – 20 March 1726/27) was an English mathematician A mathematician is someone who uses an extensive knowledge of mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics a ...

Isaac Newton
's explanations of both
refraction In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force ...

refraction
and of radiant heat. 19th century experiments into this
luminiferous aether Luminiferous aether or ether ("luminiferous", meaning "light-bearing") was the postulated medium Medium may refer to: Science and technology Aviation *Medium bomber, a class of war plane *Tecma Medium, a French hang glider design Communic ...
attempted to detect a minute drag on the Earth's orbit. While the Earth does, in fact, move through a relatively dense medium in comparison to that of interstellar space, the drag is so minuscule that it could not be detected. In 1912,
astronomer An astronomer is a scientist in the field of astronomy who focuses their studies on a specific question or field outside the scope of Earth. They observe astronomical objects such as stars, planets, natural satellite, moons, comets and galaxy, g ...

astronomer
commented: "While the interstellar absorbing medium may be simply the ether, is characteristic of a gas, and free gaseous molecules are certainly there". Later, in 1930,
Paul Dirac Paul Adrien Maurice Dirac (; 8 August 1902 – 20 October 1984) was an English theoretical physicist who is regarded as one of the most significant physicists of the 20th century. Dirac made fundamental contributions to the early develop ...

Paul Dirac
proposed a model of the vacuum as an infinite sea of particles possessing negative energy, called the
Dirac sea The Dirac sea is a theoretical model of the vacuum A vacuum is a space devoid of matter. The word is derived from the Latin adjective ''vacuus'' for "vacant" or "Void (astronomy), void". An approximation to such vacuum is a region with a gase ...

Dirac sea
. This theory helped refine the predictions of his earlier formulated
Dirac equation In particle physics, the Dirac equation is a relativistic wave equation derived by British physicist Paul Dirac in 1928. In its Dirac equation#Covariant form and relativistic invariance, free form, or including Dirac equation#Comparison with t ...
, and successfully predicted the existence of the
positron The positron or antielectron is the antiparticle s (left) and antiparticles (right). From top to bottom; electron The electron is a subatomic particle In physical sciences, subatomic particles are smaller than atom An atom is ...

positron
, confirmed two years later.
Werner Heisenberg Werner Karl Heisenberg (; ; 5 December 1901 – 1 February 1976) was a German theoretical physicist and one of the key pioneers of quantum mechanics Quantum mechanics is a fundamental Scientific theory, theory in physics that provides a de ...
's
uncertainty principle In quantum mechanics Quantum mechanics is a fundamental Scientific theory, theory in physics that provides a description of the physical properties of nature at the scale of atoms and subatomic particles. It is the foundation of all quant ...

uncertainty principle
, formulated in 1927, predicted a fundamental limit within which instantaneous position and
momentum In Newtonian mechanics, linear momentum, translational momentum, or simply momentum is the product of the mass Mass is the quantity Quantity is a property that can exist as a multitude or magnitude, which illustrate discontinui ...

momentum
, or energy and time can be measured. This has far reaching consequences on the "emptiness" of space between particles. In the late 20th century, so-called
virtual particle In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that studies matter, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior throug ...
s that arise spontaneously from empty space were confirmed.


Classical field theories

The strictest criterion to define a vacuum is a region of space and time where all the components of the
stress–energy tensor The stress–energy tensor, sometimes called the stress–energy–momentum tensor or the energy–momentum tensor, is a tensor physical quantity that describes the density and flux of energy and momentum in spacetime, generalizing the Cauchy str ...
are zero. This means that this region is devoid of energy and momentum, and by consequence, it must be empty of particles and other physical fields (such as electromagnetism) that contain energy and momentum.


Gravity

In
general relativity General relativity, also known as the general theory of relativity, is the geometric Geometry (from the grc, γεωμετρία; '' geo-'' "earth", '' -metron'' "measurement") is, with arithmetic, one of the oldest branches of mathema ...
, a vanishing stress–energy tensor implies, through
Einstein field equations In the General relativity, general theory of relativity, the Einstein field equations (EFE; also known as Einstein's equations) relate the geometry of spacetime to the distribution of Matter#In general relativity and cosmology, matter within it. ...
, the vanishing of all the components of the
Ricci tensorIn differential geometry Differential geometry is a Mathematics, mathematical discipline that uses the techniques of differential calculus, integral calculus, linear algebra and multilinear algebra to study problems in geometry. The Differential g ...
. Vacuum does not mean that the curvature of
space-time In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. "P ...
is necessarily flat: the gravitational field can still produce curvature in a vacuum in the form of tidal forces and
gravitational wave Gravitational waves are disturbances in the curvature of spacetime In , spacetime is any which fuses the and the one of into a single . can be used to visualize effects, such as why different observers perceive differently where and wh ...
s (technically, these phenomena are the components of the
Weyl tensor In differential geometry Differential geometry is a Mathematics, mathematical discipline that uses the techniques of differential calculus, integral calculus, linear algebra and multilinear algebra to study problems in geometry. The Differential ...
). The (with zero electric charge) is an elegant example of a region completely "filled" with vacuum, but still showing a strong curvature.


Electromagnetism

In
classical electromagnetism Classical electromagnetism or classical electrodynamics is a branch of theoretical physics Theoretical physics is a branch of physics that employs mathematical models and abstractions of physical objects and systems to rationalize, explain and ...
, the vacuum of free space, or sometimes just ''free space'' or ''perfect vacuum'', is a standard reference medium for electromagnetic effects. Some authors refer to this reference medium as ''classical vacuum'', a terminology intended to separate this concept from
QED vacuum The QED vacuum is the of . It is the lowest energy state (the ) of the electromagnetic field when the . When is hypothetically allowed to approach zero, QED vacuum is converted to , which is to say, the vacuum of classical electromagnetism. An ...
or
QCD vacuum The QCD vacuum is the vacuum state In quantum field theory In theoretical physics, quantum field theory (QFT) is a theoretical framework that combines classical field theory, special relativity and quantum mechanics. QFT is used in part ...
, where vacuum fluctuations can produce transient
virtual particle In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that studies matter, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior throug ...
densities and a
relative permittivity The dielectric constant (or relative permittivity) is the electric permeability of a material expressed as a ratio with the electric permeability of a vacuum. A dielectric In , a dielectric (or dielectric material or dielectric medium) is ...
and relative permeability that are not identically unity.For a qualitative description of vacuum fluctuations and virtual particles, see The relative permeability and permittivity of field-theoretic vacuums is described in and more recently in and also
QCD vacuum The QCD vacuum is the vacuum state In quantum field theory In theoretical physics, quantum field theory (QFT) is a theoretical framework that combines classical field theory, special relativity and quantum mechanics. QFT is used in part ...
is
paramagnetic Paramagnetism is a form of magnetism Magnetism is a class of physical attributes that are mediated by magnetic field A magnetic field is a vector field that describes the magnetic influence on moving electric charges, electric currents, a ...
, while
QED vacuum The QED vacuum is the of . It is the lowest energy state (the ) of the electromagnetic field when the . When is hypothetically allowed to approach zero, QED vacuum is converted to , which is to say, the vacuum of classical electromagnetism. An ...
is
diamagnetic Diamagnetic materials are repelled by a magnetic field A magnetic field is a vector field In vector calculus and physics, a vector field is an assignment of a vector to each point in a subset of space. For instance, a vector field in t ...
. See
In the theory of classical electromagnetism, free space has the following properties: * Electromagnetic radiation travels, when unobstructed, at the
speed of light The speed of light in vacuum A vacuum is a space Space is the boundless three-dimensional Three-dimensional space (also: 3-space or, rarely, tri-dimensional space) is a geometric setting in which three values (called paramet ...
, the defined value 299,792,458 m/s in
SI units The International System of Units, known by the international abbreviation SI in all languages and sometimes pleonastically as the SI system, is the modern form of the metric system The metric system is a system of measurement A sys ...
. * The
superposition principle The superposition principle, also known as superposition property, states that, for all linear system In systems theory Systems theory is the interdisciplinary study of systems, i.e. cohesive groups of interrelated, interdependent parts that ...
is always exactly true. For example, the electric potential generated by two charges is the simple addition of the potentials generated by each charge in isolation. The value of the
electric field An electric field (sometimes E-field) is the physical field that surrounds electrically-charged particle In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' ' ...

electric field
at any point around these two charges is found by calculating the
vector Vector may refer to: Biology *Vector (epidemiology) In epidemiology Epidemiology is the study and analysis of the distribution (who, when, and where), patterns and risk factor, determinants of health and disease conditions in defined pop ...
sum of the two electric fields from each of the charges acting alone. * The
permittivity In electromagnetism Electromagnetism is a branch of physics involving the study of the electromagnetic force, a type of physical interaction that occurs between electric charge, electrically charged particles. The electromagnetic force is car ...
and permeability are exactly the electric constant ε0 and magnetic constant μ0, respectively (in
SI units The International System of Units, known by the international abbreviation SI in all languages and sometimes pleonastically as the SI system, is the modern form of the metric system The metric system is a system of measurement A sys ...
), or exactly 1 (in
Gaussian units Gaussian units constitute a metric system The metric system is a system of measurement A system of measurement is a collection of units of measurement and rules relating them to each other. Systems of measurement have historically been import ...
). * The
characteristic impedance File:Transmission line schematic.svg, Schematic representation of a electrical circuit, circuit where a source is coupled to a electrical load, load with a transmission line having characteristic impedance Z_0. The characteristic impedance or sur ...
(η) equals the
impedance of free spaceThe impedance of free space, , is a physical constant A physical constant, sometimes fundamental physical constant or universal constant, is a physical quantity that is generally believed to be both universal in nature and have constant (mathematic ...
''Z''0 ≈ 376.73 Ω. The vacuum of classical electromagnetism can be viewed as an idealized electromagnetic medium with the in SI units: :\boldsymbol D(\boldsymbol r,\ t) = \varepsilon_0 \boldsymbol E(\boldsymbol r,\ t)\, :\boldsymbol H(\boldsymbol r,\ t) = \frac \boldsymbol B(\boldsymbol r,\ t)\, relating the
electric displacement In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that studies matter, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Sp ...
field ''D'' to the
electric field An electric field (sometimes E-field) is the physical field that surrounds electrically-charged particle In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' ' ...

electric field
''E'' and the
magnetic field A magnetic field is a vector field In vector calculus and physics, a vector field is an assignment of a vector to each point in a subset of space. For instance, a vector field in the plane can be visualised as a collection of arrows with ...

magnetic field
or ''H''-field ''H'' to the
magnetic induction Electromagnetic or magnetic induction is the production of an electromotive force In electromagnetism and electronics, electromotive force (emf, denoted \mathcal and measured in volts) is the electrical action produced by a non-electrical sour ...

magnetic induction
or ''B''-field ''B''. Here ''r'' is a spatial location and ''t'' is time.


Quantum mechanics

In
quantum mechanics Quantum mechanics is a fundamental theory A theory is a reason, rational type of abstraction, abstract thinking about a phenomenon, or the results of such thinking. The process of contemplative and rational thinking is often associated with ...
and
quantum field theory In theoretical physics, quantum field theory (QFT) is a theoretical framework that combines classical field theory, special relativity and quantum mechanics. QFT is used in particle physics to construct physical models of subatomic particles and ...
, the vacuum is defined as the state (that is, the solution to the equations of the theory) with the lowest possible energy (the
ground state The ground state of a quantum-mechanical system is its lowest-energy In physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledg ...
of the
Hilbert space In mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as numbers (arithmetic and number theory), formulas and related structures (algebra), shapes and spaces in which they are contained (geometry), and quantities and ...
). In
quantum electrodynamics In particle physics, quantum electrodynamics (QED) is the relativity theory, relativistic quantum field theory of electrodynamics. In essence, it describes how light and matter interact and is the first theory where full agreement between quantum m ...
this vacuum is referred to as '
QED vacuum The QED vacuum is the of . It is the lowest energy state (the ) of the electromagnetic field when the . When is hypothetically allowed to approach zero, QED vacuum is converted to , which is to say, the vacuum of classical electromagnetism. An ...
' to distinguish it from the vacuum of
quantum chromodynamics In theoretical physics Theoretical physics is a branch of physics that employs mathematical models and abstractions of physical objects and systems to rationalize, explain and predict List of natural phenomena, natural phenomena. This is in c ...
, denoted as
QCD vacuum The QCD vacuum is the vacuum state In quantum field theory In theoretical physics, quantum field theory (QFT) is a theoretical framework that combines classical field theory, special relativity and quantum mechanics. QFT is used in part ...
. QED vacuum is a state with no matter particles (hence the name), and no
photon The photon ( el, φῶς, phōs, light) is a type of elementary particle In , an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a that is not composed of other particles. Particles currently thought to be elementary include the fundamental s ...

photon
s. As described above, this state is impossible to achieve experimentally. (Even if every matter particle could somehow be removed from a volume, it would be impossible to eliminate all the blackbody photons.) Nonetheless, it provides a good model for realizable vacuum, and agrees with a number of experimental observations as described next. QED vacuum has interesting and complex properties. In QED vacuum, the electric and magnetic fields have zero average values, but their variances are not zero.For example, see As a result, QED vacuum contains vacuum fluctuations (
virtual particles In physics, a virtual particle is a transient quantum fluctuation that exhibits some of the characteristics of an ordinary particle, while having its existence limited by the uncertainty principle In quantum mechanics Quantum mechani ...
that hop into and out of existence), and a finite energy called
vacuum energy Vacuum energy is an underlying background energy In physics, energy is the physical quantity, quantitative physical property, property that must be #Energy transfer, transferred to a physical body, body or physical system to perform Work ...
. Vacuum fluctuations are an essential and ubiquitous part of quantum field theory. Some experimentally verified effects of vacuum fluctuations include
spontaneous emission Spontaneous emission is the process in which a quantum mechanical system (such as a molecule File:Pentacene on Ni(111) STM.jpg, A scanning tunneling microscopy image of pentacene molecules, which consist of linear chains of five carbon rings. ...
and the
Lamb shift In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that studies matter, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through ...
.
Coulomb's law Coulomb's law, or Coulomb's inverse-square law, is an experimental physical law, law of physics that quantifies the amount of force between two stationary, electric charge, electrically charged particles. The electric force between charged bodi ...
and the
electric potential The electric potential (also called the ''electric field potential'', potential drop, the electrostatic potential) is defined as the amount of work Work may refer to: * Work (human activity), intentional activity people perform to support the ...

electric potential
in vacuum near an electric charge are modified.In effect, the dielectric permittivity of the vacuum of classical electromagnetism is changed. For example, see Theoretically, in QCD multiple vacuum states can coexist. The starting and ending of
cosmological inflation In physical cosmology, cosmic inflation, cosmological inflation, or just inflation, is a theory of exponential expansion of the universe, expansion of space in the early universe. The inflationary epoch lasted from 10−36 seconds after the con ...
is thought to have arisen from transitions between different vacuum states. For theories obtained by quantization of a classical theory, each
stationary point In mathematics, particularly in calculus, a stationary point of a differentiable function of one variable is a point on the graph of a function, graph of the function where the function's derivative is zero. Informally, it is a point where the ...
of the energy in the configuration space gives rise to a single vacuum.
String theory In physics, string theory is a Mathematical theory, theoretical framework in which the Point particle, point-like particles of particle physics are replaced by Dimension (mathematics and physics), one-dimensional objects called String (physic ...

String theory
is believed to have a huge number of vacua – the so-called
string theory landscape The string theory landscape or landscape of vacua refers to the collection of possible false vacua in string theory In physics, string theory is a Mathematical theory, theoretical framework in which the Point particle, point-like particles ...
.


Outer space

Outer space Outer space, commonly shortened to space, is the expanse that exists beyond Earth Earth is the third planet from the Sun and the only astronomical object known to harbour and support life. 29.2% of Earth's surface is land consisting ...
has very low density and pressure, and is the closest physical approximation of a perfect vacuum. But no vacuum is truly perfect, not even in interstellar space, where there are still a few hydrogen atoms per cubic meter. Stars, planets, and moons keep their
atmosphere An atmosphere (from the greek words ἀτμός ''(atmos)'', meaning 'vapour', and σφαῖρα ''(sphaira)'', meaning 'ball' or 'sphere') is a layer or a set of layers of gases surrounding a planet or other material body, that is held in ...

atmosphere
s by gravitational attraction, and as such, atmospheres have no clearly delineated boundary: the density of atmospheric gas simply decreases with distance from the object. The Earth's atmospheric pressure drops to about at of altitude, the
Kármán line The Kármán line is an attempt to define a boundary between Earth's atmosphere File:Atmosphere gas proportions.svg, Composition of Earth's atmosphere by volume, excluding water vapor. Lower pie represents trace gases that together compose ab ...
, which is a common definition of the boundary with outer space. Beyond this line, isotropic gas pressure rapidly becomes insignificant when compared to
radiation pressure Radiation pressure is the mechanical pressure exerted upon any surface due to the exchange of momentum between the object and the electromagnetic field. This includes the momentum of light or electromagnetic radiation of any wavelength which is Ab ...

radiation pressure
from the
Sun The Sun is the star A star is an astronomical object consisting of a luminous spheroid of plasma (physics), plasma held together by its own gravity. The List of nearest stars and brown dwarfs, nearest star to Earth is the Sun. Many othe ...

Sun
and the
dynamic pressure In incompressible fluid dynamics In physics and engineering, fluid dynamics is a subdiscipline of fluid mechanics that describes the flow of fluids—liquids and gases. It has several subdisciplines, including aerodynamics (the study of air a ...
of the
solar wind The solar wind is a stream of charged particle In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that studies matter, i ...

solar wind
s, so the definition of pressure becomes difficult to interpret. The
thermosphere The thermosphere is the layer in the Earth's atmosphere directly above the mesosphere and below the exosphere. Within this layer of the atmosphere, ultraviolet radiation causes photoionization/photodissociation of molecules, creating ions; the th ...
in this range has large gradients of pressure, temperature and composition, and varies greatly due to
space weather Space weather is a branch of space physics and aeronomy, or heliophysics, concerned with the time varying conditions within the Solar System, including the solar wind, emphasizing the space surrounding the Earth, including conditions in the magn ...
. Astrophysicists prefer to use
number densityThe number density (symbol: ''n'' or ''ρ''N) is an intensive quantity used to describe the degree of concentration In chemistry Chemistry is the scientific discipline involved with Chemical element, elements and chemical compound, compounds ...
to describe these environments, in units of particles per cubic centimetre. But although it meets the definition of outer space, the atmospheric density within the first few hundred kilometers above the Kármán line is still sufficient to produce significant
drag Drag or The Drag may refer to: Places * Drag, Norway, a village in Tysfjord municipality, Nordland, Norway * ''Drág'', the Hungarian name for Dragu Commune in Sălaj County, Romania * Drag (Austin, Texas), the portion of Guadalupe Street adja ...
on
satellite In the context of spaceflight Spaceflight (or space flight) is an application of astronautics to fly spacecraft into or through outer space, either human spaceflight, with or uncrewed spaceflight, without humans on board. Most spaceflight ...

satellite
s. Most artificial satellites operate in this region called
low Earth orbit A low Earth orbit (LEO) is an Earth-centered orbit near the planet, often specified as having a period Period may refer to: Common uses * Era, a length or span of time * Full stop (or period), a punctuation mark Arts, entertainment, and media ...
and must fire their engines every couple of weeks or a few times a year (depending on solar activity). The drag here is low enough that it could theoretically be overcome by radiation pressure on
solar sail Solar sails (also called light sails or photon sails) are a method of spacecraft propulsion Spacecraft propulsion is any method used to accelerate spacecraft File:Space Shuttle Columbia launching.jpg, 275px, The US Space Shuttle flew ...
s, a proposed propulsion system for
interplanetary travel Interplanetary spaceflight or interplanetary travel is the Human spaceflight, crewed or Uncrewed spacecraft, uncrewed travel between stars and planets, usually within a single planetary system. In practice, spaceflights of this type are confined t ...
. Planets are too massive for their trajectories to be significantly affected by these forces, although their atmospheres are eroded by the solar winds. All of the
observable universe The observable universe is a ball-shaped region of the universe The universe ( la, universus) is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, galaxy, galaxies, and all other forms of matter and energy. The Big Bang th ...
is filled with large numbers of
photon The photon ( el, φῶς, phōs, light) is a type of elementary particle In , an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a that is not composed of other particles. Particles currently thought to be elementary include the fundamental s ...

photon
s, the so-called
cosmic background radiation Image:Cobe-cosmic-background-radiation.gif, 256px, Temperature of the cosmic background radiation spectrum as determined with the COBE satellite: uncorrected (top), corrected for the dipole term due to our peculiar velocity (middle), and corrected ...
, and quite likely a correspondingly large number of
neutrino A neutrino ( or ) (denoted by the Greek letter ) is a fermion In particle physics, a fermion is a particle that follows Fermi–Dirac statistics and generally has half odd integer spin: spin 1/2, Spin (physics)#Higher spins, spin 3/2, etc. T ...

neutrino
s. The current
temperature Temperature ( ) is a physical quantity that expresses hot and cold. It is the manifestation of thermal energy Thermal radiation in visible light can be seen on this hot metalwork. Thermal energy refers to several distinct physical concept ...

temperature
of this radiation is about .


Measurement

The quality of a vacuum is indicated by the amount of matter remaining in the system, so that a high quality vacuum is one with very little matter left in it. Vacuum is primarily measured by its
absolute pressure Pressure measurement is the analysis of an applied force by a fluid (liquid or gas) on a surface. Pressure is typically measured in unit of measurement, units of force per unit of surface area. Many techniques have been developed for the measure ...
, but a complete characterization requires further parameters, such as
temperature Temperature ( ) is a physical quantity that expresses hot and cold. It is the manifestation of thermal energy Thermal radiation in visible light can be seen on this hot metalwork. Thermal energy refers to several distinct physical concept ...

temperature
and chemical composition. One of the most important parameters is the
mean free path In physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in other words, to the regular succ ...

mean free path
(MFP) of residual gases, which indicates the average distance that molecules will travel between collisions with each other. As the gas density decreases, the MFP increases, and when the MFP is longer than the chamber, pump, spacecraft, or other objects present, the continuum assumptions of
fluid mechanics Fluid mechanics is the branch of physics Physics is the that studies , its , its and behavior through , and the related entities of and . "Physical science is that department of knowledge which relates to the order of nature, or, in o ...
do not apply. This vacuum state is called ''high vacuum'', and the study of fluid flows in this regime is called particle gas dynamics. The MFP of air at atmospheric pressure is very short, 70  nm, but at 100 
mPa MPA or mPa may refer to: Academia Academic degrees * Master of Performing Arts * Master of Professional Accountancy * Master of Public Administration * Master of Public Affairs Schools * Mesa Preparatory Academy * Morgan Park Academy * Mounds ...
(~) the MFP of room temperature air is roughly 100 mm, which is on the order of everyday objects such as
vacuum tube A vacuum tube, electron tube, valve (British usage), or tube (North America), is a device that controls electric current flow in a high vacuum between electrodes to which an electric voltage, potential difference has been applied. The type kn ...
s. The
Crookes radiometer Image:Crookes radiometer.jpg, thumbnail, Crookes radiometer The Crookes radiometer (also known as a light mill) consists of an airtight glass bulb containing a partial vacuum, with a set of vanes which are mounted on a spindle inside. The vanes rot ...

Crookes radiometer
turns when the MFP is larger than the size of the vanes. Vacuum quality is subdivided into ranges according to the technology required to achieve it or measure it. These ranges do not have universally agreed definitions, but a typical distribution is shown in the following table. As we travel into orbit, outer space and ultimately intergalactic space, the pressure varies by several
orders of magnitude An order of magnitude is an approximation of the logarithm In mathematics Mathematics (from Ancient Greek, Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), mathematical structure, structure (algebra), space (geome ...
. * Atmospheric pressure is variable but standardized at 101.325 kPa (760 Torr). * Low vacuum, also called ''rough vacuum'' or ''coarse vacuum'', is vacuum that can be achieved or measured with rudimentary equipment such as a
vacuum cleaner A vacuum cleaner, also known simply as a vacuum or a hoover, is a device that causes suction in order to remove dirt from floors, upholstery, draperies, and other surfaces. It is generally electrically driven. The dirt is collected by either a d ...

vacuum cleaner
and a liquid column
manometer Pressure measurement is the analysis of an applied force In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that st ...

manometer
. * Medium vacuum is vacuum that can be achieved with a single pump, but the pressure is too low to measure with a liquid or mechanical manometer. It can be measured with a
McLeod gauge A McLeod gauge is a scientific instrument used to measure very low pressure Pressure (symbol: ''p'' or ''P'') is the force In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of n ...

McLeod gauge
, thermal gauge or a capacitive gauge. * High vacuum is vacuum where the of residual gases is longer than the size of the chamber or of the object under test. High vacuum usually requires multi-stage pumping and ion gauge measurement. Some texts differentiate between high vacuum and ''very high vacuum.'' * Ultra high vacuum requires baking the chamber to remove trace gases, and other special procedures. British and German standards define ultra high vacuum as pressures below 10−6 Pa (10−8 Torr). * Deep space is generally much more empty than any artificial vacuum. It may or may not meet the definition of high vacuum above, depending on what region of space and astronomical bodies are being considered. For example, the MFP of interplanetary space is smaller than the size of the Solar System, but larger than small planets and moons. As a result, solar winds exhibit continuum flow on the scale of the Solar System, but must be considered a bombardment of particles with respect to the Earth and Moon. * Perfect vacuum is an ideal state of no particles at all. It cannot be achieved in a
laboratory A laboratory (; ; colloquially lab) is a facility that provides controlled conditions in which or technological research, s, and may be performed. Laboratory services are provided in a variety of settings: physicians' offices, clinics, hos ...

laboratory
, although there may be small volumes which, for a brief moment, happen to have no particles of matter in them. Even if all particles of matter were removed, there would still be
photon The photon ( el, φῶς, phōs, light) is a type of elementary particle In , an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a that is not composed of other particles. Particles currently thought to be elementary include the fundamental s ...

photon
s and
graviton In theories of quantum gravity, the graviton is the hypothetical quantum of gravity Gravity (), or gravitation, is a list of natural phenomena, natural phenomenon by which all things with mass or energy—including planets, stars, galaxy ...
s, as well as
dark energy In physical cosmology Physical cosmology is a branch of cosmology concerned with the study of cosmological models. A cosmological model, or simply cosmology, provides a description of the largest-scale structures and dynamics of the unive ...

dark energy
,
virtual particle In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that studies matter, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior throug ...
s, and other aspects of the quantum vacuum. * Hard vacuum and soft vacuum are terms that are defined with a dividing line defined differently by different sources, such as 1
Torr The torr (symbol: Torr) is a unit of pressure based on an absolute scale An absolute scale is a system of measurement ' Measurement is the number, numerical quantification (science), quantification of the variable and attribute (research), attri ...
, or 0.1 Torr, the common denominator being that a hard vacuum is a higher vacuum than a soft one.


Relative versus absolute measurement

Vacuum is measured in units of
pressure Pressure (symbol: ''p'' or ''P'') is the force In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its Motion (physics), motion and behavior through Spacetime, space ...

pressure
, typically as a subtraction relative to ambient atmospheric pressure on Earth. But the amount of relative measurable vacuum varies with local conditions. On the surface of
Venus Venus is the second planet from the Sun. It is named after the Venus (mythology), Roman goddess of love and beauty. As List of brightest natural objects in the sky, the brightest natural object in Earth's night sky after the Moon, Venus can ...

Venus
, where ground level atmospheric pressure is much higher than on Earth, much higher relative vacuum readings would be possible. On the surface of the moon with almost no atmosphere, it would be extremely difficult to create a measurable vacuum relative to the local environment. Similarly, much higher than normal relative vacuum readings are possible deep in the Earth's ocean. A
submarine A submarine (or sub) is a watercraft capable of independent operation underwater. It differs from a submersible, which has more limited underwater capability. It is also sometimes used historically or colloquially to refer to remotely operated ...

submarine
maintaining an internal pressure of 1 atmosphere submerged to a depth of 10 atmospheres (98 metres; a 9.8 metre column of seawater has the equivalent weight of 1 atm) is effectively a vacuum chamber keeping out the crushing exterior water pressures, though the 1 atm inside the submarine would not normally be considered a vacuum. Therefore, to properly understand the following discussions of vacuum measurement, it is important that the reader assumes the relative measurements are being done on Earth at sea level, at exactly 1 atmosphere of ambient atmospheric pressure.


Measurements relative to 1 atm

The unit of pressure is the
pascal Pascal, Pascal's or PASCAL may refer to: People and fictional characters * Pascal (given name), including a list of people with the name * Pascal (surname), including a list of people and fictional characters with the name ** Blaise Pascal, French ...
(symbol Pa), but vacuum is often measured in
torr The torr (symbol: Torr) is a unit of pressure based on an absolute scale An absolute scale is a system of measurement ' Measurement is the number, numerical quantification (science), quantification of the variable and attribute (research), attri ...
s, named for an Italian physicist Torricelli (1608–1647). A torr is equal to the displacement of a millimeter of mercury (
mmHg A millimetre of mercury is a manometric unit of pressure Pressure (symbol: ''p'' or ''P'') is the force In physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its Elementary particle, fundamental constituents, its M ...
) in a
manometer Pressure measurement is the analysis of an applied force In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that st ...

manometer
with 1 torr equaling 133.3223684 pascals above absolute zero pressure. Vacuum is often also measured on the
barometric A barometer is a scientific instrument that is used to measure air pressure in a certain environment. Pressure tendency can forecast short term changes in the weather. Many measurements of air pressure are used within surface weather analysis to ...

barometric
scale or as a percentage of
atmospheric pressure Atmospheric pressure, also known as barometric pressure (after the barometer A barometer is a scientific instrument that is used to measure air pressure in a certain environment. Pressure tendency can forecast short term changes in the weather. ...
in bars or
atmospheres The standard atmosphere (symbol: atm) is a unit Unit may refer to: Arts and entertainment * UNIT, a fictional military organization in the science fiction television series ''Doctor Who'' * Unit of action, a discrete piece of action (or beat) in a ...
. Low vacuum is often measured in
millimeters of mercury A millimetre of mercury is a manometric unit of pressure Pressure (symbol: ''p'' or ''P'') is the force In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''p ...
(mmHg) or pascals (Pa) below standard atmospheric pressure. "Below atmospheric" means that the absolute pressure is equal to the current atmospheric pressure. In other words, most low vacuum gauges that read, for example 50.79 Torr. Many inexpensive low vacuum gauges have a margin of error and may report a vacuum of 0 Torr but in practice this generally requires a two-stage rotary vane or other medium type of vacuum pump to go much beyond (lower than) 1 torr.


Measuring instruments

Many devices are used to measure the pressure in a vacuum, depending on what range of vacuum is needed. Hydrostatic gauges (such as the mercury column
manometer Pressure measurement is the analysis of an applied force In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that st ...

manometer
) consist of a vertical column of liquid in a tube whose ends are exposed to different pressures. The column will rise or fall until its weight is in equilibrium with the pressure differential between the two ends of the tube. The simplest design is a closed-end U-shaped tube, one side of which is connected to the region of interest. Any fluid can be used, but
mercury Mercury usually refers to: * Mercury (planet) Mercury is the smallest planet in the Solar System and the closest to the Sun. Its orbit around the Sun takes 87.97 Earth days, the shortest of all the Sun's planets. It is named after the Roman g ...

mercury
is preferred for its high density and low vapour pressure. Simple hydrostatic gauges can measure pressures ranging from 1 torr (100 Pa) to above atmospheric. An important variation is the
McLeod gauge A McLeod gauge is a scientific instrument used to measure very low pressure Pressure (symbol: ''p'' or ''P'') is the force In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of n ...

McLeod gauge
which isolates a known volume of vacuum and compresses it to multiply the height variation of the liquid column. The McLeod gauge can measure vacuums as high as 10−6 torr (0.1 mPa), which is the lowest direct measurement of pressure that is possible with current technology. Other vacuum gauges can measure lower pressures, but only indirectly by measurement of other pressure-controlled properties. These indirect measurements must be calibrated via a direct measurement, most commonly a McLeod gauge. The kenotometer is a particular type of hydrostatic gauge, typically used in power plants using steam turbines. The kenotometer measures the vacuum in the steam space of the condenser, that is, the exhaust of the last stage of the turbine. Mechanical or elastic gauges depend on a Bourdon tube, diaphragm, or capsule, usually made of metal, which will change shape in response to the pressure of the region in question. A variation on this idea is the capacitance manometer, in which the diaphragm makes up a part of a capacitor. A change in pressure leads to the flexure of the diaphragm, which results in a change in capacitance. These gauges are effective from 103 torr to 10−4 torr, and beyond. Thermal conductivity gauges rely on the fact that the ability of a gas to conduct heat decreases with pressure. In this type of gauge, a wire filament is heated by running current through it. A
thermocouple A thermocouple is an electrical device consisting of two dissimilar electrical conductors In physics and electrical engineering, a conductor is an object or type of material that allows the flow of Electric charge, charge (electrical current) ...
or Resistance Temperature Detector (RTD) can then be used to measure the temperature of the filament. This temperature is dependent on the rate at which the filament loses heat to the surrounding gas, and therefore on the thermal conductivity. A common variant is the Pirani gauge which uses a single platinum filament as both the heated element and RTD. These gauges are accurate from 10 torr to 10−3 torr, but they are sensitive to the chemical composition of the gases being measured. Ionization gauges are used in ultrahigh vacuum. They come in two types: hot cathode and cold cathode. In the Hot filament ionization gauge, hot cathode version an electrically heated filament produces an electron beam. The electrons travel through the gauge and ionize gas molecules around them. The resulting ions are collected at a negative electrode. The current depends on the number of ions, which depends on the pressure in the gauge. Hot cathode gauges are accurate from 10−3 torr to 10−10 torr. The principle behind cold cathode version is the same, except that electrons are produced in a discharge created by a high voltage electrical discharge. Cold cathode gauges are accurate from 10−2 torr to 10−9 torr. Ionization gauge calibration is very sensitive to construction geometry, chemical composition of gases being measured, corrosion and surface deposits. Their calibration can be invalidated by activation at atmospheric pressure or low vacuum. The composition of gases at high vacuums will usually be unpredictable, so a mass spectrometer must be used in conjunction with the ionization gauge for accurate measurement.


Uses

Vacuum is useful in a variety of processes and devices. Its first widespread use was in the
incandescent light bulb An incandescent light bulb, incandescent lamp or incandescent light globe is an with a wire heated until it glows. The filament is enclosed in a glass bulb with a vacuum or inert gas to protect the filament from . Current is supplied to the ...

incandescent light bulb
to protect the filament from chemical degradation. The chemical inertness produced by a vacuum is also useful for electron beam welding, cold welding, vacuum packing and Vacuum fryer, vacuum frying.
Ultra-high vacuum Ultra-high vacuum (UHV) is the vacuum A vacuum is a space Space is the boundless three-dimensional Three-dimensional space (also: 3-space or, rarely, tri-dimensional space) is a geometric setting in which three values (called paramete ...
is used in the study of atomically clean substrates, as only a very good vacuum preserves atomic-scale clean surfaces for a reasonably long time (on the order of minutes to days). High to ultra-high vacuum removes the obstruction of air, allowing particle beams to deposit or remove materials without contamination. This is the principle behind chemical vapor deposition, physical vapor deposition, and dry etching which are essential to the fabrication of semiconductor fabrication, semiconductors and optical coatings, and to surface science. The reduction of convection provides the thermal insulation of thermos bottles. Deep vacuum lowers the boiling point of liquids and promotes low temperature outgassing which is used in freeze drying, adhesive preparation, vacuum distillation, distillation, metallurgy, and process purging. The electrical properties of vacuum make electron microscopes and
vacuum tube A vacuum tube, electron tube, valve (British usage), or tube (North America), is a device that controls electric current flow in a high vacuum between electrodes to which an electric voltage, potential difference has been applied. The type kn ...
s possible, including cathode ray tubes. Vacuum interrupters are used in electrical switchgear. Vacuum arc processes are industrially important for production of certain grades of steel or high purity materials. The elimination of air friction is useful for flywheel energy storage and ultracentrifuges.


Vacuum-driven machines

Vacuums are commonly used to produce
suction Suction is the colloquial term to describe the air pressure Pressure (symbol: ''p'' or ''P'') is the force In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''ph ...
, which has an even wider variety of applications. The Newcomen steam engine used vacuum instead of pressure to drive a piston. In the 19th century, vacuum was used for traction on Isambard Kingdom Brunel's experimental atmospheric railway. Vacuum brakes were once widely used on trains in the UK but, except on heritage railways, they have been replaced by Railway air brake, air brakes. Manifold vacuum can be used to drive Automobile ancillary power#Vacuum, accessories on automobiles. The best known application is the vacuum servo, used to provide power assistance for the brakes. Obsolete applications include vacuum-driven windscreen wipers and Autovac fuel pumps. Some aircraft instruments (Attitude Indicator (AI) and the Heading Indicator (HI)) are typically vacuum-powered, as protection against loss of all (electrically powered) instruments, since early aircraft often did not have electrical systems, and since there are two readily available sources of vacuum on a moving aircraft, the engine and an external venturi. Vacuum induction melting uses electromagnetic induction within a vacuum. Maintaining a vacuum in the Condenser (steam turbine), condenser is an important aspect of the efficient operation of steam turbines. A steam jet Steam ejector, ejector or Liquid ring pump, liquid ring vacuum pump is used for this purpose. The typical vacuum maintained in the condenser steam space at the exhaust of the turbine (also called condenser backpressure) is in the range 5 to 15 kPa (absolute), depending on the type of condenser and the ambient conditions.


Outgassing

Evaporation and sublimation (chemistry), sublimation into a vacuum is called outgassing. All materials, solid or liquid, have a small vapour pressure, and their outgassing becomes important when the vacuum pressure falls below this vapour pressure. Outgassing has the same effect as a leak and will limit the achievable vacuum. Outgassing products may condense on nearby colder surfaces, which can be troublesome if they obscure optical instruments or react with other materials. This is of great concern to space missions, where an obscured telescope or solar cell can ruin an expensive mission. The most prevalent outgassing product in vacuum systems is water absorbed by chamber materials. It can be reduced by desiccating or baking the chamber, and removing absorbent materials. Outgassed water can condense in the oil of rotary vane pumps and reduce their net speed drastically if gas ballasting is not used. High vacuum systems must be clean and free of organic matter to minimize outgassing. Ultra-high vacuum systems are usually baked, preferably under vacuum, to temporarily raise the vapour pressure of all outgassing materials and boil them off. Once the bulk of the outgassing materials are boiled off and evacuated, the system may be cooled to lower vapour pressures and minimize residual outgassing during actual operation. Some systems are cooled well below room temperature by liquid nitrogen to shut down residual outgassing and simultaneously cryopump the system.


Pumping and ambient air pressure

Fluids cannot generally be pulled, so a vacuum cannot be created by
suction Suction is the colloquial term to describe the air pressure Pressure (symbol: ''p'' or ''P'') is the force In physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''ph ...
. Suction can spread and dilute a vacuum by letting a higher pressure push fluids into it, but the vacuum has to be created first before suction can occur. The easiest way to create an artificial vacuum is to expand the volume of a container. For example, the diaphragm (anatomy), diaphragm muscle expands the chest cavity, which causes the volume of the lungs to increase. This expansion reduces the pressure and creates a partial vacuum, which is soon filled by air pushed in by atmospheric pressure. To continue evacuating a chamber indefinitely without requiring infinite growth, a compartment of the vacuum can be repeatedly closed off, exhausted, and expanded again. This is the principle behind vacuum pump#Positive displacement pump, positive displacement pumps, like the manual water pump for example. Inside the pump, a mechanism expands a small sealed cavity to create a vacuum. Because of the pressure differential, some fluid from the chamber (or the well, in our example) is pushed into the pump's small cavity. The pump's cavity is then sealed from the chamber, opened to the atmosphere, and squeezed back to a minute size. The above explanation is merely a simple introduction to vacuum pumping, and is not representative of the entire range of pumps in use. Many variations of the positive displacement pump have been developed, and many other pump designs rely on fundamentally different principles. vacuum pump#Momentum transfer pump, Momentum transfer pumps, which bear some similarities to dynamic pumps used at higher pressures, can achieve much higher quality vacuums than positive displacement pumps. vacuum pump#Entrapment pump, Entrapment pumps can capture gases in a solid or absorbed state, often with no moving parts, no seals and no vibration. None of these pumps are universal; each type has important performance limitations. They all share a difficulty in pumping low molecular weight gases, especially hydrogen, helium, and neon. The lowest pressure that can be attained in a system is also dependent on many things other than the nature of the pumps. Multiple pumps may be connected in series, called stages, to achieve higher vacuums. The choice of seals, chamber geometry, materials, and pump-down procedures will all have an impact. Collectively, these are called ''vacuum technique''. And sometimes, the final pressure is not the only relevant characteristic. Pumping systems differ in oil contamination, vibration, preferential pumping of certain gases, pump-down speeds, intermittent duty cycle, reliability, or tolerance to high leakage rates. In ultra high vacuum systems, some very "odd" leakage paths and outgassing sources must be considered. The water absorption of aluminium and palladium becomes an unacceptable source of outgassing, and even the adsorptivity of hard metals such as stainless steel or titanium must be considered. Some oils and greases will boil off in extreme vacuums. The permeability of the metallic chamber walls may have to be considered, and the grain direction of the metallic flanges should be parallel to the flange face. The lowest pressures currently achievable in laboratory are about . However, pressures as low as have been indirectly measured in a cryogenic vacuum system. This corresponds to ≈100 particles/cm3.


Effects on humans and animals

Humans and animals exposed to vacuum will lose consciousness after a few seconds and die of Hypoxia (medical), hypoxia within minutes, but the symptoms are not nearly as graphic as commonly depicted in media and popular culture. The reduction in pressure lowers the temperature at which blood and other body fluids boil, but the elastic pressure of blood vessels ensures that this boiling point remains above the internal body temperature of Although the blood will not boil, the formation of gas bubbles in bodily fluids at reduced pressures, known as ebullism, is still a concern. The gas may bloat the body to twice its normal size and slow circulation, but tissues are elastic and porous enough to prevent rupture. Swelling and ebullism can be restrained by containment in a flight suit. Space Shuttle program, Shuttle astronauts wore a fitted elastic garment called the Crew Altitude Protection Suit (CAPS) which prevents ebullism at pressures as low as 2 kPa (15 Torr). Rapid boiling will cool the skin and create frost, particularly in the mouth, but this is not a significant hazard. Animal experiments show that rapid and complete recovery is normal for exposures shorter than 90 seconds, while longer full-body exposures are fatal and resuscitation has never been successful. A study by NASA on eight chimpanzees found all of them survived two and a half minute exposures to vacuum. There is only a limited amount of data available from human accidents, but it is consistent with animal data. Limbs may be exposed for much longer if breathing is not impaired..
Robert Boyle Robert Boyle (; 25 January 1627 – 31 December 1691) was an Anglo-Irish Anglo-Irish () is a term which was more commonly used in the 19th and early 20th centuries to identify an ethnic group An ethnic group or ethnicity is a group ...

Robert Boyle
was the first to show in 1660 that vacuum is lethal to small animals. An experiment indicates that plants are able to survive in a low pressure environment (1.5 kPa) for about 30 minutes. Cold or oxygen-rich atmospheres can sustain life at pressures much lower than atmospheric, as long as the density of oxygen is similar to that of standard sea-level atmosphere. The colder air temperatures found at altitudes of up to 3 km generally compensate for the lower pressures there. Above this altitude, oxygen enrichment is necessary to prevent altitude sickness in humans that did not undergo prior acclimatization, and spacesuits are necessary to prevent ebullism above 19 km. Most spacesuits use only 20 kPa (150 Torr) of pure oxygen. This pressure is high enough to prevent ebullism, but decompression sickness and air embolism, gas embolisms can still occur if decompression rates are not managed. Rapid decompression can be much more dangerous than vacuum exposure itself. Even if the victim does not hold his or her breath, venting through the windpipe may be too slow to prevent the fatal rupture of the delicate Pulmonary alveolus, alveoli of the lungs. Eardrums and sinuses may be ruptured by rapid decompression, soft tissues may bruise and seep blood, and the stress of shock will accelerate oxygen consumption leading to hypoxia. Injuries caused by rapid decompression are called barotrauma. A pressure drop of 13 kPa (100 Torr), which produces no symptoms if it is gradual, may be fatal if it occurs suddenly. Some extremophile microorganisms, such as tardigrades, can survive vacuum conditions for periods of days or weeks.


Examples


See also

* Decay of the vacuum (Pair production) * Manifold vacuum, Engine vacuum * False vacuum * Helium mass spectrometer – technical instrumentation to detect a vacuum leak * Brazing#Vacuum brazing, Joining materials * Pneumatic tube – transport system using vacuum or pressure to move containers in tubes * Rarefaction – reduction of a medium's density * Suction – creation of a partial vacuum * Vacuum angle * Vacuum cementing – natural process of solidifying homogeneous "dust" in vacuum * Vacuum column (tape drive), Vacuum column – controlling loose magnetic tape in early computer data recording tape drives * Vacuum deposition – process of depositing atoms and molecules in a sub-atmospheric pressure environment * Vacuum engineering * Vacuum flange – joining of vacuum systems


References

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External links


Leybold – Fundamentals of Vacuum Technology (PDF)

VIDEO on the nature of vacuum
by Canadian astrophysicist Doctor P


American Vacuum Society

Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology A

Journal of Vacuum Science and Technology B




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Vacuum, Production of Space

"Much Ado About Nothing" by Professor John D. Barrow, Gresham College
* Free pdf copy o
The Structured Vacuum – thinking about nothing
by Johann Rafelski and Berndt Muller (1985) . {{Authority control Vacuum, Physical phenomena Industrial processes Gases Articles containing video clips Latin words and phrases