Would I explode or implode in space?

Organic Mama asks:

Would a person IMPLODE or EXPLODE if suddenly transported into the vast emptiness of space? Every time someone tells me the answer, it evaporates from my mind 

You’d explode.

Here’s how to remember it. Space is a vacuum. Your body has internal pressure (if you don’t think it does, try holding in a burp or fart for a while). When you suddenly transport yourself to space, the internal pressure will make you swell up like a balloon – at least until your skin reaches it’s breaking point,then you’d pop (more or less).

NASA did some studies back in the 60s when they were trying to develop comfortable and functional space suits, and made the interesting discovery that you only need a little bit of extra support to keep from popping in a vacuum (space). Pretty much a heavy nylon/lycra body suit would work. Problem is, it won’t protect you from the cold or the radiation, so you still need that bulky space suit……

9 Responses to “Would I explode or implode in space?”

  1. Mary Says:

    Hi,

    I came across a couple of articles that contradict your answer…

    http://sciencefocus.com/qa/what-happens-if-you’re-thrown-space-without-spacesuit

    http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/answers/970603.html

    Would you be able to clarify?

    Thank you.

    • sphyrnatude Says:

      It is true that you probably wouldn’t explode – the original question was about EXploding vs. IMploding, and the “person in a vacuum” is one of the standard models for this discussion.
      As far as what would happen to you if you were suddenly placed in a hard vacuum – it would depend on how sudden the transition was. So far, all of the experiments that have been done (intentionally or accidentally) that we have records for show that you would face risks similar to a scuba diver coming up from a deep dive too fast. For divers, this is called “the bends”, and is a result of excess gasses in the blood and tissues escaping and forming bubbles in places where bubbles aren’t supposed to be. This is very painful, and can be fatal.

      Of course, all of the examples of exposure to vacuum that we know of share 2 common conditions: the exposure is not instantaneous (most of these instances are the result of leaks in pressure suits while working in a vacuum, so the vacuum the person is exposed to develops fairly slowly) , and the vacuum is nowhere near the level of vacuum found in space. For these cases, the victims seem to succumb to oxygen starvation rather than other more dramatic effects. It is not known if the bends would have developed, because in all of the cases I could find, the person was quickly returned to normal pressures, so any gas that would have left he blood would simply return to it.

      The real risks in sudden exposure to vacuum have to do with the fact that gasses (like air) expand and contract, depending on the amount of pressure that they are exposed to. A given volume of gas at a specific pressure and temperature can be compresses into a smaller volume by increasing the pressure or cooling it off. A person exposed to a sudden vacuum would most likely suffer damage to the lungs as the air expands faster than it can be vented out the mouth. Any air in the intestines or digestive tract would also expand, causing at least discomfort, and possibly a rupture of the intestine. When the pressure drops, the gasses in the blood will tend to leave the blood, and from bubbles. These bubbles tend to collect in the joints (causing the bends – the bubbles force the arms and legs to bend at the joints). Eventually, the bubbles that are being released int he blood will cause enough air to accumulate in the heart that circulation will stop, even if the heart is still beating (in a car, this would be called vapor lock). Air bubbles that travel to the brain would also cause problems, and eventually death (by blocking circulation and/or rupturing tiny blood vessels).

      Note that the effects of sudden decompression can be reversed (if they are not too severe) by simply returning the body to the original pressure. It can take a long time for all of the air bubbles to be taken back up by the blood, and any trauma that was caused by the sudden expansion of the air would have to be dealt with.

      So, you’re palrty right – a person thrown into space probably wouldn’t explode (unless they had a whole lot of bean burritos for dinner last night), but they probably would die pretty darn quick….

  2. erika Says:

    im in 7th grade and my science teacher said if space is a vacc
    um you would inplode because you would be sucked farther in to space till your oxygen runs out and you would suffocate to death…

    i guess he is not the smartest in the class ; )

  3. sphyrnatude Says:

    Hello again Erika….
    Your science teacher is right about suffocating – space is a vacuum, so their is no oxygen or other air, and you would suffocate. Your teacher might be confused about the difference between IMploding and EXploding.
    IMploding is when something collapses into itself, and is pretty rare in the normal world – the pressure inside something has to be much less than the pressure outside of it. The best example of an implosion that i Know of is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-3cu_Q119s. A steel 55 gallon drum has a couple of gallons of boiling water in it, and is allowed to fill with steam. The drum is corked, and cooled off with a garden hose. As the steam condenses back into water, the pressure inside the drum drops until the drum collapses into itself – this is an implosion.

    An EXplosion is just the opposite – when the pressure inside an object is higher than the pressure outside of it. We see these all the time in movies, TV, firecrackers, etc……

  4. Rachel Kiley Says:

    Do solids implode? I’m assuming liquids do. Gasses do too, when stars die right?

    • sphyrnatude Says:

      Hi Rachel, You’ve got some great questions, so here goes:
      Solids wouldn’t either implode or explode just because they are in a vacuum. In order for something to implode or explode because of a vacuum, there has to a difference in the pressure inside the object and outside of it. What we usually think of as “exploding in a vacuum” is usually in reference to a body or a space ship. The reason these would explode is because they have gasses (air) inside them. Air is effected by pressure – if it is in high pressure, it is compressed, and gets smaller. If it is low pressure, it expand, and gets bigger. When a body is in a “normal” environment, there is air around it, and the air pushes in on the body (this is what atmospheric pressure is – you hear about it all the time on the weather report). It presses inward with almost exactly the same pressure as the gasses inside the body press out, so the two pressure balance each other out.
      When you move a body into vacuum, you remove the pressure of the “outside air”, because it isn’t there anymore. That means that the inside air is still pushing outward, but there is nothing to push back and balance it. If the skin isn’t strong enough to hold the air in, the body will pop (just like a balloon), or explode.
      So, back to the solids. When we talk about a solid, we don’t usually mean something that has pockets of air inside it, so the changes in pressure wouldn’t make any difference. The solid doesn’t care if there is air pressure on the outside, because there isn’t anything pushing ‘outward’. Solids are strong enough that the changes in outside pressure caused by air don’t really matter. By the time the air pressure would be strong enough to compress a solid, the air itself would have turned into a liquid, and then a solid. (When you take air and compress it – put it under pressure – it will turn into a liquid, then if you add enough, it will become solid. Think of water vapour, water, and ice).

      Now that we understand a bit about pressure, we can look at liquids. Liquids (in this case) behave just like solids. There isn’t any pressure pushing out, so changing the air pressure wouldn’t make much difference.

      Gasses do behave differently, but to understand that, we need to think about the atoms in the gas. Pressure pushes the atoms closer together, so more pressure means they’re packed tighter together. This is why if you put enough pressure on a gas, it turns into a liquid – the atoms have smashed close enough together to condense into a liquid – just like rain. If you keep squishing them together even more, they become solid – like ice. You can get the exact same effect as adding pressure by decreasing temperature. (this is called Boyle’s law, and you’ll learn about it in high school chemistry and physics).
      When we place out ;liquid in a vacuum (really low pressure), the atoms will be far apart – there isn’t anything pushing them together. the gas hasn’t changed – the atoms are exactly the same thing, they’re just farther apart.
      When start ‘die’ (I’m assuming you’re talking about imploding stars), the gas itself isn’t imploding, what is happening is that the gravity of the star is pulling all of the materials that the star is made of into a smaller area. to really understand how that works, we’d need to delve into the physics of plasma, gravity, and the sub atomic forces, so I think I’ll skip that for now. The simple answer is that the STAR implodes, but the gasses don’t….

  5. Dan Says:

    What about that dream sequence in Gravity? You know the one where Clooney opens the Soyuz space capsule? If that wasn’t a dream and someone were to have opened the capsule like Clooney did, wouldn’t the capsule implode?

    • sphyrnatude Says:

      I haven’t seen gravity, but I think I can answer your question anyway. I think your question is: If someone opened a space capsule in space, would it implode?
      The answer is no. There would be a huge rush of air out of the capsule, and the end result would be that the capsule would have nothing but a vacuum inside it. Because there is no pressure difference between the outside and inside (once all the air is gone), there isn’t anything to change the shape of the capsule. It would be kind of like shaking up a can of soda, then opening it. Before you open it, there is a lot of pressure inside the can (just like the closed capsule). When you open the can, everything inside shoots out, but the can doesn’t implode. This is exactly the same as when the capsule door is opened. It starts out with lots of pressure inside, and when the door is opened, all the stuff inside the capsule (at least the stuff that isn’t tied down) blows out with the air – just like the soda shooting out of the can. Once things settle down, the pressure inside and outside is the same.
      That doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t cause damage – the air rushing out of the capsule when the ‘door’ is opened would have a lot of force, and would blow things around (and out of the capsule).

      • Dan Says:

        You should really see Gravity. It’s so good that I think it might actually change science such that the capsule would actually implode.

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