Welcome to PTFTD, a (semi-)regular feature on my blog. Each (ideally daily) post I will raise a topic for consideration that may hopefully give you pause for some serious, or not-so-serious contemplation throughout your day/night/week/life.
It’s as much for my personal benefit as anyone else’s who may find it of interest, as we all try to figure out just what life is all about and what on Earth we are all doing here or to each other?
It’s been a while since my last PTFTD – my apologies.
All appearances to the contrary there is no such thing as ‘solid’ matter.
The stuff we normally think of as being a ‘solid’ is, in fact, almost entirely a vacuum – there is literally almost nothing there!
We consider solid matter to be made up of atoms, of which there are 92 basic forms occurring in nature, and these atoms join together in varying combinations and structural formations. The common feature of all atoms is that they comprise of a ridiculously small sized centre, or nucleus, around which is a massive spherical ‘shell’ that is only occupied by a small number of almost infinitesimally sized objects known as electrons, the rest is effectively ’empty’.
Under ‘normal’ conditions the closest any atom can be squashed up against any other atom is determined by the size of it’s electron shell. Electrons, being negatively charged, repel the electrons that are in the shell surrounding other atomic nucleii. Many types of atoms have an electron shell diameter to nucleus diameter of the order of 20,000 : 1. In other words, if the nucleus of an atom was expanded to the size of a soccer or basket ball, the closest proximity another atomic nucleus could be to it is roughly 20,000ft (6,500m) or just under 4 miles (6.5km) away! The electrons, which number less than 93 for any atom, are free to fly about anywhere within the 4 mile diameter sphere and are so small as to be invisible even at this gigantic scale. There is reason to suspect that an electron is not always defineable as a particle (object) and can in some situations have more of a non-tangible nature.
The densest possible configuration of similar sized (spherical) atoms allows for only 12 other atoms surrounding any single atom. So imagine 1 basketball ‘surrounded’ by 12 others all equally spaced around it and all at a distance of 4 miles from the central one (and from each of their 4 closest neighbours!). The shape is that of a cuboctahedron with a radius of 8 miles. (Just 13 basketballs represent all the ‘solid’ matter in that massive ‘dense’ space).
Now you have a better idea of just how solid the densest possible solid matter is on Earth.
What gives the illusion of solidity, what makes things feel very solid to our touch is the fact that our ‘solid’ body does not rely upon our atomic nucleii (basketballs) touching another object’s nucleii directly, but is based upon the ‘invisible’ electron’s force of repulsion preventing our atoms meeting with anything approaching what can really be considered as ‘solid’. Try pushing two poles of strong magnets together to get an idea of the ‘gaps’ between any two ‘toughing’ atoms such as might be in your finger and, say, a piece of wood or stone – but with an incredible difference in scale.
If i haven’t boggled your brain enough for one day then consider this concept:
Anything solid that is large enough for us to see has billions upon billions of atoms in it all ‘tightly’ (as above) packed together, and because there are so many in such a small area, even though they are almost totally empty space, light cannot pass through- it is absorbed and or reflected from a solid surface. So why does light pass through Glass? – or water, or air for that matter?
Light can pass though crystals, but not pass through metals that may have a quite similar structure to crystals? Not even metals that are paper thin, such as tinfoil or gold leaf.
I need to think on this for a while (longer) 🙂