Space is Dark
Name: Omar J.
Why is space dark?
This is a good question, but, unfortunately, not very easy to answer.
To begin with, we should first ask: "Should we expect space *not* to be
A guy named Olber thought so. He thought that if space was huge, and there
were lots and lots of stars in it, then, given time, the light from all those
stars should make space bright. --But we know it is not, so what is going on?
The answer is in the "if" part of Olber's statement. He assumed that space
huge with lots of stars (both true), but he also assumed that the light from
all those stars would reach us here on Earth given time.
But the universe is not infinitely old, it is expanding, and stars do die out.
Because the universe is not infinitely old, that puts a limit to how long the
light from all those stars can have travelled. So some of the light has not
gotten here yet. Because stars do die out, that means that their light dies
out too - which means that we may get the light from some stars at one time,
and the light from some other stars at a different time, but not all the
of all the stars that everywhere put together. Finally, because the
expanding, the light gets weaker before it gets to us. All in all, this means
that there is not enough light from all those stars to make any point in
Does that answer your question?
A very good question you have asked.
We are able to see with our eyes because light enters our eyes. This
light comes from something which makes light like the sun in our sky, or
Now, think of yourself inside a closet with a flashlight. If the
flashlight is off, the closet is dark because there is no light reaching
your eyes. If you turn the flashlight on and look directly into it, you
see the light directly from the flashlight. If you turn the flashlight
away from you, you no longer see the light directly, but you see it as
it bounces off the closet walls and other objects in the closet
(including you!) and reaches your eyes. If there was nothing for the
light to bounce off of, you would not know if the flashlight was on or
When you look up into the night sky, you see the light from the stars
(like looking into the flashlight). You can also see light which has
bounced off of other objects such as our moon, or the other planets in
our solar system. Unfortunately, the rest of space is pretty empty and
although light is traveling through it, if it does not reach our eye we
will see darkness.
This is a very good question. But it does not have a simple answer, but
here goes. The question you raise has a long history. It is called Obler's
paradox. He was the first one to ask the question. He said that if the
Universe is infinite the sky should always be bright. That obviously is not
the case, so why? First, remember we "see" only a small sliver of the
radiation coming to us from outer space. There are radio waves, infrared
light (heat), visible light (that we see), ultraviolet light, and x-rays --
none of which we can see with our eyes. If all that "light" were added in
the night sky would seem a lot brighter. In addition, even for visible
light, our eyes have limited sensitivity. That is why astronomers make
telescopes. If you look at the night sky with even with low power
binoculars, a whole lot of stars will fill you field of view, and the sky
looks a lot brighter. It is this combination of limited visible light
according to its wavelength or frequency, and the limited sensitivity of our
unaided eyes that makes the night sky look so dark.
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Update: June 2012