Questions in this tag must be answered in a manner that can be understood by a general audience with at most a basic understanding of physics, mathematics and related sciences. Apply it to questions where the asker clearly requests such answers.

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379
votes
20answers
139k views

Cooling a cup of coffee with help of a spoon

During the breakfast with my colleagues, a question popped into my head: What is the fastest method to cool a cup of coffee, if your only available instrument is a spoon? A qualitative answer would ...
137
votes
3answers
40k views

Surviving under water in air bubble

An incredible news story today is about a man who survived for two days at the bottom of the sea (~30 m deep) in a capsized boat, in an air bubble that formed in a corner of the boat. He was ...
64
votes
6answers
6k views

Why is there a scarcity of lithium?

One of the major impediments to the widespread adoption of electric cars is a shortage of lithium for the batteries. I read an article a while back that says that there is simply not enough lithium ...
61
votes
5answers
7k views

How literally should you take “The Higgs boson gives other particles mass”?

A standard phrase in popular discussions of the Higgs boson is that "it gives particles mass". To what extent is this a reasonable, pop-science, level of description of the Higgs boson and it's ...
55
votes
7answers
5k views

The speed of gravity?

Sorry for the layman question, but it's not my field. Suppose this thought experiment is performed. Light takes 8 minutes to go from the surface of the Sun to Earth. Imagine the Sun is suddenly ...
47
votes
6answers
5k views

Why does space expansion not expand matter?

REFORMULATED: I have looked at the other questions (ie "why does space expansion affect matter") but can't find the answer I am looking for. My question: There is always mention of space expanding ...
41
votes
8answers
3k views

Explaining to a five year old - why don't bubbles run like water

My five-year old daughter was asking about astronauts the other day and why they float in space. After me showing her a few bits on the kids section on the NASA web site I started explaining about the ...
35
votes
5answers
4k views

Is it possible to have a geostationary satellite over the poles?

My understanding of orbital mechanics is very limited, but as I understand geostationary satellite, they stay in place by having an orbital speed corresponding to the spot they're orbiting over. So ...
30
votes
2answers
918 views

What forces are at work causing sand to migrate to the centre of a spinning bucket of water? [duplicate]

A bucket is filled with water and a handful of sand. The water is then spun. Why and what forces are in play which cause the sand particles to congregate in the centre of the bucket?
28
votes
2answers
2k views

What are Stephen Hawking's main contributions to research-level physics?

Without a doubt, Stephen Hawking is the most famous living scientist; indeed, his public visibility in all of history seems to be rivaled only by Einstein and easily eclipses giants of physics such as ...
23
votes
4answers
5k views

Blowing your own sail?

How it this possible? Even if the gif is fake, the Mythbusters did it and with a large sail it really moves forward. What is the explanation?
21
votes
8answers
2k views

Why is there a size limitation on animals?

Why is there a size limitation on human/animal growth? Assuming the technology exists for man to grow to 200 feet high, it's pretty much a given that the stress on the skeletal structure and joints ...
20
votes
4answers
2k views

Is space “real”, or is it some sort of accepted postulate?

sorry for this very naive (layman) question. What is space? It seems to be every where in the equations of physics (as some sort of postulate or hidden hypothesis). We also have a direct experience ...
18
votes
3answers
7k views

How does the Higgs mechanism work?

I'm not a particle physicist, but I did manage to get through the Feynman lectures without getting too lost. Is there a way to explain how the Higgs field works, in a way that people like me might ...
18
votes
5answers
3k views

Does a car consume more fuel when it's raining?

Yesterday my wife asked me that question, and I couldn't answer. Consider a car, in a sunny day, and that is consumes x gallons per mile. Considering that everything is equal, except that it's ...
18
votes
7answers
7k views

How can a human eye focus on a screen directly in front of it?

I am asking this question here because I think the answer has something to do with the way light is bent as it's captured through the eye. I saw a show a while ago about tiny screens on contact ...
16
votes
5answers
1k views

String Theory and Standard Model in CERN

I don't know how to say it, but in the TV dominatrices and the popular science books we see the string theory as "the best theory to explain everything", and as "the only game in town"... etc. And ...
16
votes
6answers
1k views

How to argue that time travel to past would not be possible even in future?

I am a science fiction writer. I know how to time travel to the future (using black hole or speed). But I need to argue in my novel that time travel to the past might not be possible. Is there a way ...
15
votes
5answers
945 views

Does a magnetically suspended frog feel weightless?

Magnetic levitation has been used to suspend frogs in midair. I was wondering: Does the animal still feel gravitational pull? I mean: Does the frog feel like an astronaut on the ISS, or does he feel ...
14
votes
2answers
3k views

Why can't supersonic planes “just fly higher” to go faster while maintaining cost?

First post to this site, and I've got at most a high school background in physics - I really appreciate any answer, but I may not be able to follow you if you're too advanced. I suppose this goes for ...
13
votes
4answers
1k views

A water pipe from sea level to beyond the atmosphere

If a pipe extended from just above the ocean floor to outside the atmosphere, would water be sucked up it by the vacuum beyond the atmosphere? If a hole was made in the pipe, above sea level, how ...
13
votes
4answers
4k views

How to explain the weak force to a layman?

I'm trying to explain in simple terms what the weak interaction does, but I'm having trouble since it doesn't resemble other forces he's familiar with and I haven't been able to come up (or find on ...
12
votes
11answers
6k views

Does 'electricity' have mass? Is 'electricity' tangible?

Background: I'm in a legal academic discussion about the status of electronic 'goods' and whether they qualify as 'goods' in the same way a chair and a pen do. In this context (and specifically at the ...
12
votes
4answers
2k views

QM and Renormalization (layman)

I was reading Michio Kaku's Beyond Einstein. In it, I think, he explains that when physicsts treat a particle as a geometric point they end up with infinity when calculating the strength of the ...
12
votes
4answers
8k views

On a hot day, when it's cooler outside than in; is it better to put a fan in an open window pointing inwards or outwards?

If it's really hot inside, but cooler outside; what is the best way to place a single fan to try and cool a room down? I always assumed it would be better pointing inwards (and this thread suggests ...
12
votes
1answer
752 views

Which hemisphere am I on?

Inspired by this answer to a question on Puzzling.SE (which contains the old but wrong idea that the Coriolis force determines the direction in which a bathroom vortex rotates, and also an approach ...
12
votes
4answers
1k views

Vortex in liquid collects particles in center

At xmas, I had a cup of tea with some debris at the bottom from the leaves. With less than an inch of tea left, I'd shake the cup to get a little vortex going, then stop shaking and watch it spin. ...
11
votes
5answers
2k views

How would you describe a black hole to a complete layman?

Non-astrophysicist visitors to Black Hole, will most likely barely make it past the introduction before getting lost in the technical details. Moreover, the Wikipedia article does not teach laypeople ...
11
votes
2answers
672 views

Movie airplanes and suction

Having watched a recent action movie (with zombies in it) I wondered whether the suction from a hole in the airplane's hull would really be able to rip out luggage, persons and even seating benches. ...
11
votes
2answers
219 views

What is a sudden singularity?

I've seen references to some sort of black hole (or something) referred to as a sudden singularity, but I haven't seen a short clear definition of what this is for the layman.
10
votes
8answers
4k views

Is there a proof of existence of time?

It seems to me that there is no such thing as time. There is only movement in the universe and we compare our own movement to a different object to have a sense of time. It can be a clock or a atomic ...
10
votes
8answers
3k views

Why are extra dimensions necessary?

Some theories have more than 4 dimensions of spacetime. But we only observe 4 spacetime dimensions in the real world, cf. e.g. this Phys.SE post. Why are the theories (e.g. string theory) that ...
10
votes
3answers
2k views

What has been proved about the big bang, and what has not?

Ok so the universe is in constant expansion, that has been proven, right? And that means that it was smaller in the past.. But what's the smallest size we can be sure the universe has ever had? I ...
10
votes
1answer
612 views

How can I explain or demonstrate the Lorentz Force to a 12 year old?

I'm a space physicist. I've been working with a group of school students (aged between around 10 and 12) exploring the Sun, the Earth and the solar system. We've talked about some basics of magnetism ...
9
votes
4answers
790 views

Lay explanation of the special theory of relativity? [closed]

What is Einstein's theory of Special relativity, in terms a lay person can follow?
9
votes
5answers
2k views

Did spacetime start with the Big bang?

Did spacetime start with the Big Bang? I mean, was there any presence of this spacetime we are experiencing now before big bang? And could there be a presence/existence of any other space-time before ...
9
votes
5answers
3k views

What is our location relative to the Big Bang?

Given what we know about space, time and the movement of galaxies, have we or can we determine what our position is in relation to the projected location of the Big Bang? I've read some introductory ...
8
votes
3answers
129 views

What's dark matter and who discovered it?

I have heard about dark matter that's called the Master Of The Universe. What's this and is the dark matter the reason galaxies exist?
8
votes
4answers
310 views

Direct exposure to the vacuum of space

I was watching a few sci-fi movies and was wondering the real science explaining what would happen if you were to be subject to the conditions of outerspace. I read the wikipedia article on space ...
8
votes
3answers
369 views

Does MOND make good predictions?

Well, it does according to this preprint for certain scales. What would be a simple way to explain MOND to a layman? Does it ignore mainstream physics? How much?
8
votes
2answers
300 views

Why is the summer, in the temperate latitudes, in average, hotter that the spring?

It is common knowledge that the transition from the Spring to the Summer season occurs in the Summer Solstice when the "Sun reaches its highest excursion relative to the celestial equator on the ...
8
votes
3answers
1k views

Is space infinitely divisible?

As a child I remember hearing the popular paradox presented by Zeno proposing that Achilles could never catch a tortoise in a race since he would have to traverse the infinite space between himself ...
7
votes
1answer
341 views

Antimatter Propulsion System

Is there a possibility ( in theory ) to build a antimatter propulsion system, if so how can we control the collision of matter-anitmatter, will humans be able to control this force just like ...
7
votes
2answers
872 views

How do I develop an intuitive model of spacetime?

I am your nightmare poster - a layman trying to learn special relativity. (I'm also a refugee from stackoverflow.com: trust me, it's only going to get worse). Apologies in advance if my question is ...
7
votes
2answers
515 views

Is there an intuitive way of thinking about the extra dimensions in M-Theory?

Why are 11 dimensions needed in M-Theory? The four I know (three spatial ones plus time) have an intuitive meaning in everyday life. How can I think of the other seven? What is their nature (spatial, ...
7
votes
1answer
211 views

How do ice spikes form?

I recently saw this picture posted on Twitter which shows a so-called ice spike rising from an ice cube tray. I have read the Wikipedia page, but it doesn't mean much to me. My instinct was that it ...
7
votes
1answer
196 views

When the sun's magnetic field reverses, how can “the north pole (have) already (…) reversed, and (we are) waiting for the south pole to catch-up”?

I was reading a popular news account of the sun's upcoming magnetic field reversal at http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2013/0807/Sun-s-magnetic-reversal-means-big-changes-for-the-solar-system-video, ...
6
votes
2answers
681 views

Can someone explain how water from a garden hose can propagate in a sine/cosine wave?

A video posted on Youtube. How does this phenomenon work? I know he is using frequency to propagate water in a sine/cosine wave, but how does it exactly work this way? Why do we see it as if its ...
6
votes
1answer
2k views

Do residents of the Hudson Bay area have more time?

Apparently there is a gravity anomaly in the Hudson Bay Area in Canada: gravity is "missing" or it is slightly less than it is in the rest of the world. Does that mean that things in the Hudson Bay ...
6
votes
2answers
859 views

Why do objects sometimes fall on their own?

I have observed sometimes that when I keep some objects precariously balanced, for e.g. some objects in a cupboard, they seem quite stable at the time when I place them there but after a certain ...