Astronauts describe the emptiness and darkness of space far from Earth as a startling experience. So did the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, in a poem e-mailed to me by writer Dror Burstein. Without ever having ventured into space (obviously), Rilke wrote a century ago: “Night, shuddering in my regard, but in yourself so steady; inexhaustible creation, enduring beyond the fate of earth.”

Is there a modern scientific interpretation to Rilke’s poem?

The reality is that space in neither empty nor dark. Even outside galaxies, an astronaut could find at least one proton, on average, in every cubic meter. Also, one electron and half a billion photons and neutrinos, all left over from the big bang.  Still, one might naively imagine that the space in between these particles is empty. Indeed, the early atomists in ancient Greece thought that the vacuum is literally nothing.

Read more at Scientific America