If oxygen were pumped into space where would it go?

  • If an astronaut went into space with a sealed container of oxygen and opened it up in space and let all the oxygen go, what would happen to it? would it all just dissipate into some other particle or matter or would it just stay there until something consumed it

    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because this is not about astronomy as defined in the help centre.

  • Gases tries to occupy all the volume of the container in which they are encased in equilibrated pressure. This happens because the gas molecules are always colliding and kicking each other in a 3D high velocity brownian motion. The result is that the gas molecules occupies all the container's volume homogeneously.

    So, if the sealed container is opened up in space, the oxygen would quickly leak out, because the molecules near the vacuum edge would be instantaneosuly kicked out by the gas innermost molecules. This would happen rather quickly and in a chained manner, but is dependent on the size of the open hole. Macroscopically, the result would be that all the gas would be running out in a form of a wind/jet out of the open hole into outer space. This would only stop when all the molecules becomes too far apart from each other to have any further intermolecular interaction.

    This means that the oxygen (or any other gas) would be dissipated into outer space. The gas molecules would initially be spread out by the intermolecular collisions and then would go outwardly due to the momentum acquired from each individual gas molecule.

    When freed in outer space, each molecule would eventually reach something else to interact, so they could be attracted and retained by some gravity well (most likely from a planet or moon), or interact with some magnetosphere (if near a planet) or interact with some other molecule wandering around, or with a cosmic ray or be catched by the solar wind particles (or any of the equivalent if this happens near some other star).

    If this happens in intergalactic space where there is no body with appreciable gravity or magnetic field nearby, no stellar wind and the cosmic rays are very sparse and rare and the very few that exists are randomly directed, then the molecules would just spread out in virtually linear trajectories and travel the intergalactic space lonely, quietly and virtually undisturbed for some billions or trillions of years. In their journey, each molecule would only very occasionally interact with some other molecule (likely to be hydrogen) or some other lost particle wandering around.

    If your sealed container is big enough and under enough pressure, at some point the gas will become self-gravitating. It's been some years since I did the calc, but IIRC, if you were to fill the solar system with gas at 1 atmosphere pressure out to the distance of Pluto, you'd end up with a black hole.

    @WayfaringStranger Yes, I am talking about everyday containers, not something big and massive enough to have any non-negligible self-gravity.

    What we consider "breathable" air has an average individual molecular velocity of about 700 MPH. Rapid expansion of gas can have a cooling effect, but it would still likely fly apart at some 400 miles per hour as a very rough guess. in 1 second, your gas would have spread out to a radius of over 500 feet, so it tends towards a near vacuum very quickly. Curiously, if you were to release a container of gas and you had a fellow astronaut near by, you might watch him get blown away from you, not at super high speed, but visibly pushed.

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