Can space exist by itself without matter or energy around?No. Experiments continue to show that there is no 'space' that stands apart from space-time itself...no arena in which matter, energy and gravity operate which is not affected by matter, energy and gravity. General relativity tells us that what we call space is just another feature of the gravitational field of the universe, so space and space-time can and do not exist apart from the matter and energy that creates the gravitational field. This is not speculation, but sound observation.
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All answers are provided by Dr. Sten Odenwald (Raytheon STX) for the NASA Astronomy Cafe, part of the NASA Education and Public Outreach program.