eli5: if atoms are mostly empty space, why can’t we see gaps in everything?

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eli5: if atoms are mostly empty space, why can’t we see gaps in everything?

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Light is a wave. You can stop a wave without fully obstructing it. As long as your obstruction “appears” solid on the size scale of the wavelength of the light, it can block the light easily.

When you look at the sky, what do you see? You see a 3D field of view that shows the resolution of your eyes, which are imperfect cameras made from blobs of jelly and mucus and nerve endings.

Can you see the Oort Cloud with the naked eye? Maybe, if you’ve got some amazingly good eyesight.

But the same reason we can’t determine individual pixels in this punctuation mark -> . <- is the reason we can’t see the spaces between individual atoms.

If you think about it, it’s the same reason you can’t see the gap between the door and the floor if it’s fitted correctly – it’s there, it’s just at a resolution your eyes cannot process.

One day we may well have the technology and the cameras to allow us to see down to the subatomic level, but that day is not today.

Atoms are do not have a bunch of empty space per se. The model we use to describe atoms does. We call this model the planetary model because it shows a core nucleus with orbiting electrons. While this model helps us understand how an atom behaves, it’s not a representation of reality.

In reality electrons are hard to pin down. They exist in a “cloud” of probability around an atom. You can’t compress that cloud in any way. When 2 clouds of probabilities meet they either repel each other or overlap. When those clouds overlap they form a bond which makes 2 atoms attached to each other by their probability clouds.

Let’s imagine an atom more like proximity detonated bomb that we have no way of affecting. We know the radius that the bomb detects and stay out of it. While there is nothing truly physical stopping us from entering that space, it is effectively the same as if there was a wall there. Anything that enters that space becomes affected by the bomb.