Can an atom condense (collapse?) under gravity to a volume less than the nucleus?

The Big Bang is the example motivating the question - if the entire mass of the universe is condensing to some minimal size then does that mean atomic nuclei no longer exist? ... are 'superimposed' or such?

Another way of asking this is 'Is there a minimum distance required for adjacent waves to exist?'

ALTERNATE PERSPECTIVE ADDED ... How does the total volume of all the atoms in the universe compare with whatever scale of 'soup' would exist at The Big Bang. Is there so much space between atomic particles, and their constituent quarks, to account for the ridiculously small size of the big bang 'ball'.


closed as unclear what you're asking by Chris, ZeroTheHero, Cosmas Zachos, sammy gerbil, ahemmetter Nov 20 '18 at 7:45

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  • $\begingroup$ Nanoseconds after the start of the BB, the region that eventually became our currently observable universe was quite small. The whole universe was much larger. There are good reasons to believe that the whole universe is infinite, and if that's the case, then it's always been infinite, since the earliest moments after the BB started. (BB theory doesn't attempt to describe the state at time $t=0$, only at times greater than zero). $\endgroup$ – PM 2Ring Nov 18 '18 at 3:47
  • $\begingroup$ ? "The whole universe was much larger." It seems like the inevitable problem with a statement about the size of the universe is that it strongly implies the universe is bounded ... but that would seem to be impossible as anything outside that boundary would also be part of the universe. Don't most people imagine "the universe" to be some sort of container? ... wondering 'how far it goes' ... but there is no "it" because "it" means bounded, identifiable, and the word infinite is really a proxy for 'not comprehendible'. $\endgroup$ – Randy Zeitman Nov 18 '18 at 3:54
  • $\begingroup$ @safesphere I'm not following. Sailing around the world would prove the world is bounded ... the edge being a surface, a sphere. You seem to be saying something like 'alive doesn't imply living'. And I also don't understand what you mean by your infinite statement. Infinite means without bound ...what does it have to do with application of anything. $\endgroup$ – Randy Zeitman Nov 18 '18 at 17:28
  • $\begingroup$ ? The absence of a property can always be stated as another property. What's the difference in saying 'counting without limit' and 'unbounded counting'? $\endgroup$ – Randy Zeitman Nov 18 '18 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ You don't need to go back to the BB to answer this question $\endgroup$ – Lewis Miller Nov 19 '18 at 13:54

Yes, atoms can collapse into their constituent elementary particles.

To use your example, early on in the universe there was no "nuclear" matter (e.g. atoms), and instead you had a soup of elementary particles such as quarks, neutrinos, photons, etc. This is because matter was too dense and hot to allow nuclear matter to exist. Once the universe expanded, matter became cooler and more dillute to allow nuclei to exist.

Now, there are actually examples where the atoms "gravitationally collapse" as well. We see that in neutron stars. Neutron stars are the remnants of stars once made of nuclei/atoms. However, gravitational collapse squeezes these nuclei, dissolving them into their constituent neutrons and protons. There are some theories that even argue that neutrons/protons inside neutron stars can "collapse" into their constituent quarks due to immense pressures in the core.

  • $\begingroup$ A neutron star is not a single atom. Neither was very early universe the result of gravitational collapse. $\endgroup$ – StephenG Nov 18 '18 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ He is asking if atoms can collapse, which they can. $\endgroup$ – mathdummy Nov 18 '18 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ Atoms can be subject to external forces that compress them to denser states, however an atom will not, in and of itself, collapse gravitationally as the EM forces are too high compared to the gravitational forces. You need to differentiate between a single atom and a large ensemble of atoms (like a star). $\endgroup$ – StephenG Nov 18 '18 at 0:28
  • $\begingroup$ I mean of course atoms cannot collapse gravitationally by themselves, because the gravitational force is minute. But you can "squeeze" atoms into other forms of matter, effectively destroying the "atom". This is what happens in neutron stars, due to gravity $\endgroup$ – mathdummy Nov 18 '18 at 0:45

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