Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Mercury (element) in Space
Name: N/A
Status: N/A
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: N/A


Question:
I know that in space water forms a ball as mercury does on earth and I wondered what happens to mercury in space.?



Replies:
Generally it will form a ball. In empty space there would be no forces on the mercury other than the internal forces between mercury atoms. They attract one another weakly (by "van der Waals forces" and by gravity), and so the mercury will pull itself into the most compact possible shape, which is a sphere, if the mercury is not rotating (if it is, the most compact possible shape would typically be a flattened sphere, like a beach ball when you sit on it). Space is not ever really empty, mind you, and under many circumstances the mercury will assume other shapes. If the mercury were in orbit around another body, for example, there would be tides on the mercury ball much like the tides that occur in the Earth's oceans because of the nearby presence of the Moon, and the mercury would be egg-shaped. A sphere is the equilibrium and thus ultimate shape, generally, but the shape at any given time would also depend on the history of the mercury. How much is there? Where did it come from? How hot was it then? How long has it been in space? If, for example, you dumped only a gram or two of roo temperature mercury out your space-station window, it might well all evaporate right away, or, if not, it could take longer than the present age of the Universe to relax from an initial irregular "splash" shape to a tiny sphere.

christopher grayce



Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory