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15
votes
2answers
4k views

Dumbed-down explanation how scientists know the number of atoms in the universe?

It is often quoted that the number of atoms in the universe is 10$^{70}$ or 10$^{80}$. How do scientists determine this number? And how accurate is it (how strong is the supporting evidences for ...
24
votes
6answers
3k views

How fast a (relatively) small black hole will consume the Earth?

This question appeared quite a time ago and was inspired, of course, by all the fuss around "LHC will destroy the Earth". Consider a small black hole, that is somehow got inside the Earth. Under ...
2
votes
2answers
2k views

When do I apply Significant figures in physics calculations?

I'm a little confused as to when to use significant figures for my physics class. For example, I'm asked to find the average speed of a race car that travels around a circular track with a radius of ...
5
votes
3answers
136 views

What would it take to cause lightning to jump between the Moon and the Earth?

This question comes from @Floris' speculation at the end of his excellent answer about what it would take to kill everyone on the Earth with electricity. Doing all this in 1/10th of a second ...
18
votes
2answers
2k views

How long until we fall into the Sun?

As a planet moves through the solar system, a bow shock is formed as the solar wind is decelerated by the magnetic field of the planet. Presumably the creation of this shock wave would cause drag on ...
29
votes
6answers
5k views

If the Earth is a good conductor of electricity, why don't people get electrocuted every time they touch the Earth?

Since the Earth is a good conductor of electricity, is it safe to assume that any charge that flows down to the Earth must be redistributed into the Earth in and along all directions? Does this also ...
36
votes
5answers
5k views

Freefall into snow

In the movie Frozen, the following dialogue takes place: Anna: "It's a hundred-foot drop." Kristoff: "It's two hundred." Anna: "Okay, what if we fall?" Kristoff: "There's 20 feet of ...
2
votes
2answers
129 views

Order of magnitude estimation for some intriguing questions

The physics TA showed us a few examples in which one can estimate many things from first principles, sound logic, and scaling arguments. This led usually to understanding of why some numbers have the ...
4
votes
0answers
78 views

Intuitively, why does removing solutes cost $k_B T$ of free energy per molecule?

I can calculate that if you want to, for example, desalinate water, you will have to pay a free energy cost of $k_B T$ for each ion you remove. In other words, removing an ion from a volume of water ...
9
votes
2answers
1k views

Why do mirages only appear on hot days?

A previous question asked why the road sometimes appears wet on hot days. The reason is that when there's a temperature gradient in the air, it causes a gradient in the index of refraction, causing ...
3
votes
1answer
114 views

What is the force required to move a raindrop?

I'm doing some research on how much force is required to move a typical raindrop (assuming that it is falling straight down) off to the side of X distance. This is for a school project on creating our ...
1
vote
1answer
194 views

How much lead is there in the universe?

I know there is around 10^80 atoms in the observable universe, but is there any estimate the amount of lead in the universe (within a couple magnitudes of 10)?