CONCEPTS

What is space?

We explain what space is according to its different meanings: physical, exterior, geographic space, and its relationship with time.

  1. What is space?

It is not easy to explain what space is, since it is a term that can have many and very different meanings , depending on the context that accompanies it. The word space comes from the Latin spatium , a term with which the philosophers of yesteryear named matter , terrain or time that separates a point A from a point B.

His first definitions in the Spanish Language Dictionary point to terms such as “extension”, “distance”, “capacity” or “course”, since deep down we understand by space a proportion or relationship .

Thus, the portion of the world that occupies a given body is space, and cannot be occupied by any other at the same time. Space is also the distance between one thing and another, or even the time span between a different event and another.

At the same time, we call the entire universe space outside our planet . We also give the term other specialized uses, such as geographical space .

All these meanings are true in context and merit a separate explanation, which we will discuss below.

  1. Physical space

Physical space is the place that an object occupies in the universe, conceived based on the three customary linear dimensions: height, width and depth. In that sense, space is a key concept for the physical understanding of the universe.

It is mathematically calculable and questioned by contemporary physics . Its relationship with time has been known since ancient times, but it was fully developed in the twentieth century by Albert Einstein, as we will see later.

In classical mechanics or Newtonian mechanics, space constitutes one of the elementary magnitudes of the universe , which is not definable through other similar magnitudes (such as time, mass , etc.).

  1. Space and time

physical space einstein newton relativity
Newton and Einstein proposed two different views on the space-time relationship.

The relationship between space and time occupied a central place in the philosophy of the seventeenth century . Therefore, great thinkers such as the English physicist Isaac Newton (1642-1727) as the German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716), developed very different theories to understand it.

Newtonian mechanics understood space and time as absolute values . Thus was founded the classical mechanics that came to this day. This conception changed with relativism in the twentieth century, whose most famous name is that of Albert Einstein.

Although there had already been attempts to overcome the traditional geometric considerations of space, through non-Euclidean geometry, it was only in 1905 that this new way of understanding the link between space and time appeared.

Albert Einstein’s theories argued that neither of these two magnitudes is truly absolute, but depends on the viewer’s point of view. In this Theory of Special Relativity , Einstein proposed that time and space formed a single construction: space-time , the fabric of which the universe is composed.

  1. Outer space

Halley comet
Knowledge of outer space, when it could only be observed with the naked eye, was limited.

The concept of outer space arises with the possibility of knowing the universe beyond our planet. Outer space is the vast extent of emptiness between the end of the atmosphere and the beginning of that of other distant planets .

It is called “outside” as opposed to the inner space of the planet. However, this space is not really empty of matter or energy , but it contains an extremely low density of particles (especially hydrogen) and electromagnetic waves.

The exploration of outer space was limited for many centuries to observation through telescopes . Only in the twentieth century could the first objects be put into orbit .

In addition, in 1969 the first astronauts arrived on the Moon , initiating the physical and technological exploration of outer space , by launching space probes and, subsequently, unmanned missions to Mars and other planets.

  1. Geographical space

geographical space
The geographical space offers a look at society from a spatial point of view.

For its part, the concept of geographical space belongs to the field of geography . It is the same physical space, but ordered by human society . In other words, it implies a look at human society from a spatial point of view.

The geographical space is divided into landscapes : each according to the order of things that one wishes to perceive. You can talk about natural landscape, urban landscape, rural landscape, etc.

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