You often hear intergalactic space is an example for a very good vacuum. But how vacuos is space between galaxy clusters and inside a huge void structure? Are there papers quoting a measurement/approximation method (building the difference of a very near known and far away similar spectral source)? Are the rest particles mainly Hydrogen, He,...? Is it important at all to know the average density of intergalatic space in cosmological research?

  • $\begingroup$ Related: physics.stackexchange.com/q/560/2451 and links therein. $\endgroup$
    – Qmechanic
    Oct 23, 2012 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding the last sentence: Not only does this density help pin down the large-scale features of our universe (will it recollapse or expand forever? etc.), but it is absolutely essential in figuring out how far radio waves travel. $\endgroup$
    – user10851
    Aug 4, 2013 at 20:48

1 Answer 1


According to Universe Today, for the intergalactic medium they state a figure of only one hydrogen atom per cubic meter. As a point of comparison, the University of California, San Diego quotes an interstellar density of 1 atom per cubic centimeter.

As to why it is important, all this material has photoionization effects on observations. Even though it is incredibly diffuse, because temperature is defined by the excitement state of atoms, this intergalactic medium is millions of degrees! This level of excitation could cause you to get erroneous results if you do not compensate for it. There is a review article by Piero Madau that explains it much better than I can. That probably explains a great deal more than I could here, although it will require quite a few pages of reading.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. Does anyone of the links show how the intergalactic density is actually measured/approximated? Probably I overlooked it $\endgroup$
    – Hauser
    Sep 20, 2011 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Hauser I think it may have something to do with the vibrational energy (i.e. temperature). I didn't see an explicit explanation in reading the first two links. The CalTech link may have it, but I didn't see it right off in my quick perusal. $\endgroup$ Sep 20, 2011 at 23:56
  • $\begingroup$ Cal univ measure is the Milky Way value. The Universe Today value is the average ISM measure on all the universe. IMO. $\endgroup$ Sep 29, 2014 at 13:01

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