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What does outer space feel like?

Date: Mon Oct 25 02:37:18 1999
Posted by Malcolm Guess
Grade level: nonaligned School: none
City: Los Angeles State/Province: CA Country: USA
Area of science: Astronomy
ID: 940833438.As

To state the scenario simply: If you were in a space suit in outer space and you were to remove your glove or your helmet, what would happen to your flesh and what might it feel like. In addition, if you held your breathe and then exhaled after taking your helmet off what would happen to your breathe-what would happen when you tried to inhale again? I haven't found anything information on what space feels like in my search. Thank you

Space doesn't feel like anything, because there is nothing to feel! Space is a vacuum (or near enough). It's a common question to ask how hot space is (or how cold), but space itself has no temperature. However, the Sun is hot, and radiates that heat in the form of light. You absorb that light and feel heat. Near the Earth, a person floating in space would actually not receive enough light to keep from freezing! You yourself would radiate away your heat, and that's why spacesuits have heaters in them.

It's a common misconception that people would explode if exposed to vacuum. That's not true! Exposed to a vacuum, your lungs would very quickly blow all their air out (if you tried to hold your breath you would actually do more damage to your lung tissue). You would not be able to breathe back in because there's no air to breathe! You would pass out quickly due to loss of oxygen. You'd have a couple of minutes before brain damage occurs, so you'd better hope someone else is out there with you!

Surprisingly, the worst thing that might happen is that you'd get a bad sunburn. Without the Earth's protective ozone layer between you and the raw sunlight, the ultraviolet light from the Sun could give you a nasty sunburn in just a few seconds! If you're an astronaut doing a tricky maneuver, better pack the sunblock!

For more about temperatures and space, check out my website's page why we have seasons (which discusses how much heat we receive from the Sun). For a bit more about space and what happens to the body, check out the urban legends archive.

©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

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