47
votes
8answers
10k views

Proof that the Earth rotates?

What is the proof, without leaving the Earth, and involving only basic physics, that the earth rotates around its axis? By basic physics I mean the physics that the early physicists must've used to ...
47
votes
14answers
5k views

Number theory in Physics

As a Graduate Mathematics student, my interest lies in Number theory. I am curious to know if Number theory has any connections or applications to physics. I have never even heard of any applications ...
46
votes
5answers
6k views

How long can you survive 1 million degrees?

I asked my Dad this once when I was about 14, and he said that no matter how short the amount of time you were exposed to such a great temperature, you would surely die. The conversation went ...
46
votes
10answers
4k views

What is a field, really?

There was a reason why I constantly failed physics at school and university, and that reason was, apart from the fact I was immensely lazy, that I mentally refused to "believe" more advanced stuff ...
46
votes
7answers
6k views

Why does a remote car key work when held to your head/body?

I was trying to unlock my car, but I was out of range. A friend of mine said that I have to hold the transmitter next to my head. It worked, so I tried the following later that day: Walked away from ...
45
votes
12answers
7k views

How long a straw could Superman use?

To suck water through a straw, you create a partial vacuum in your lungs. Water rises through the straw until the pressure in the straw at the water level equals atmospheric pressure. This ...
45
votes
6answers
3k views

Does someone falling into a black hole see the end of the universe?

This question was prompted by Can matter really fall through an event horizon?. Notoriously, if you calculate the Schwarzschild coordinate time for anything, matter or light, to reach the event ...
44
votes
2answers
7k views

Was the 2013 meteor over Russia stronger than an atomic bomb?

Reports of the Russian meteor event (2013) say that it released more energy than 20 atomic bombs of the size dropped on Hiroshima, Japan: Scientists estimated the meteor unleashed a force 20 times ...
44
votes
9answers
4k views

Is time continuous?

While working on physics simulation software, I noticed that I had implemented discrete time (the only type possible on computers). By that I mean that I had an update mechanism that advanced the ...
43
votes
4answers
4k views

Being in a solid state, why is ice slippery? [duplicate]

Saying that ice is slippery is like saying that water is wet -- it's something we've known for as long as we can be said to have known anything. Presumably, humans as a species knew ice was slippery ...
43
votes
3answers
19k views

Is the universe fundamentally deterministic?

I'm not sure if this is the right place to ask this question. I realise that this maybe a borderline philosophical question at this point in time, therefore feel free to close this question if you ...
43
votes
7answers
3k views

Cyclist's electrical tingling under power lines

It's been happening to me for years. I finally decided to ask users who are better with "practical physics" when I was told that my experience – that I am going to describe momentarily – prove that I ...
43
votes
8answers
2k views

Is there a symmetry associated to the conservation of information?

Conservation of information seems to be a deep physical principle. For instance, Unitarity is a key concept in Quantum Mechanics and Quantum Field Theory. We may wonder if there is an underlying ...
43
votes
2answers
696 views

Analog Hawking radiation

I am confused by most discussions of analog Hawking radiation in fluids (see, for example, the recent experimental result of Weinfurtner et al. Phys. Rev. Lett. 106, 021302 (2011), ...
42
votes
8answers
17k views

Why does the atmosphere rotate along with the earth?

I was reading somewhere about a really cheap way of travelling: using balloons to get ourselves away from the surface of the earth. The idea held that because the earth rotates, we should be ...
42
votes
7answers
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 ...
42
votes
1answer
5k views

Why does a window become a mirror at night?

In day, when you look in the room through the window out, you can clearly see what happens outside. At night when it's dark outside but there's light inside you can look in the window but it becomes a ...
42
votes
2answers
3k views

Why did Feynman's thesis almost work?

A bit of background helps frame this question. The question itself is in the last sentence. For his PhD thesis, Richard Feynman and his thesis adviser John Archibald Wheeler devised an astonishingly ...
41
votes
2answers
18k views

Why don't electric fish shock themselves?

Fish like electric eels and torpedoes have specially designed nerve cells that allow them to discharge hundreds of volts of electricity. Now, while pure water is usually nonconductive, the dissolved ...
41
votes
11answers
4k views

Quantum Field Theory from a mathematical point of view

I'm a student of mathematics with not much background in physics. I'm interested in learning Quantum field theory from a mathematical point of view. Are there any good books or other reference ...
41
votes
4answers
5k views

Why does a cup with 100 g water float when placed on another cup with 50 g of water?

Imagine we have cup A with 50 g of water and cup B (smaller in width than A) with 100 g of water. Now put cup B into cup A. If the width of both cups are of comparable size then the cup with ...
41
votes
8answers
2k views

How can Magnets be used to pick up pieces of metal when the force from a magnetic field does no work?

I learned that the force from magnetic fields does no work. However I was wondering how magnets can be used to pick up pieces of metal like small paperclips and stuff. I also was wondering how magnets ...
40
votes
16answers
4k views

Is it possible for information to be transmitted faster than light by using a rigid pole?

Is it possible for information (like 1 and 0s) to be transmitted faster than light? For instance, take a rigid pole of several AU in length. Now say you have a person on each end, and one of them ...
40
votes
7answers
3k views

Why is the Earth so fat?

I made a naive calculation of the height of Earth's equatorial bulge and found that it should be about 10km. The true height is about 20km. My question is: why is there this discrepancy? The ...
40
votes
2answers
5k views

Why Do Sausages Always Split Lengthwise?

Sausages universally split parallel to the length of the sausage. Why is that?
40
votes
13answers
7k views

Best books for mathematical background?

What are the best textbooks to read for the mathematical background you need for modern physics, such as, string theory? Some subjects off the top of my head that probably need covering: ...
40
votes
7answers
3k views

Quantum Entanglement - What's the big deal?

Bearing in mind I am a layman - with no background in physics - please could someone explain what the "big deal" is with quantum entanglement? I used to think I understood it - that 2 particles, say ...
40
votes
6answers
2k views

What is known about the topological structure of spacetime?

General relativity says that spacetime is a Lorentzian 4-manifold $M$ whose metric satisfies Einstein's field equations. I have two questions: What topological restrictions do Einstein's equations ...
40
votes
1answer
2k views

Why does dry spaghetti break into three pieces as opposed to only two?

You can try it with your own uncooked spaghetti if you want; it almost always breaks into three when you snap it. I am asking for a good physical theory on why this is along with evidence to back it ...
40
votes
2answers
6k views

Why do earphone wires always get tangled up in pocket?

What is the reason? Is it caused by their narrow shape, the soft material, walking vibration or something else?
40
votes
0answers
988 views

What is the upper-limit on intrinsic heating due to dark matter?

Cold dark matter is thought to fill our galactic neighborhood with a density $\rho$ of about 0.3 GeV/cm${}^3$ and with a velocity $v$ of roughly 200 to 300 km/s. (The velocity dispersion is much ...
39
votes
5answers
6k views

Why does a candle blow out when we blow on it? Our breath is 16% oxygen and only 4% CO2

Don't say that a layer of carbon dioxide covers the flame, because our breath has more oxygen than carbon dioxide. Also, our breath does not cool the flame as it is itself warm. So what is happening ...
39
votes
4answers
1k views

Do gravitational lenses have a focus point?

Do gravitational lenses have a focus point? Could I burn space ants?
39
votes
4answers
3k views

Dimensionless Constants in Physics

Forgive me if this topic is too much in the realm of philosophy. John Baez has an interesting perspective on the relative importance of dimensionless constants, which he calls fundamental like alpha, ...
38
votes
16answers
3k views

Quantum mechanics and everyday nature

Is there a phenomenon visible to the naked eye that requires quantum mechanics to be satisfactorily explained? I am looking for a sort of quantic Newtonian apple.
38
votes
7answers
2k views

Explaining UV radiation to a 6 year old

My (just completed) PhD involved a considerable amount of research involved with the detection of solar UV radiation. This generated quite a bit of interest, especially when I was conducting my ...
38
votes
7answers
3k views

Is it fair to judge this speedskating race by only 3 thousands of a second?

I'm reading this article: Zbigniew Brodka of Poland won the Olympic men's 1,500 meters speed skating title by just 0.003 seconds at the Adler Arena on Saturday. Brodka clocked one minute, ...
38
votes
4answers
3k views

Why is water clear?

Water appears transparent to visible light, yet most other objects are opaque. Why is that? Is there an explanation why water appears transparent? Is water transparent at all wavelengths, or are ...
38
votes
5answers
3k views

Why do we think there are only three generations of fundamental particles?

In the standard model of particle physics, there are three generations of quarks (up/down, strange/charm, and top/bottom), along with three generations of leptons (electron, muon, and tau). All of ...
38
votes
0answers
881 views

Experimental test of the non-statisticality theorem?

Context: The recent paper The quantum state cannot be interpreted statistically by Pusey, Barrett and Rudolph (now On the reality of the quantum state, Nature Physics 8, 475–478 (2012), ...
37
votes
4answers
5k views

How do bicycle spokes work?

As you know, it is quite obvious that Bicycle spokes attach the hub in the centre to the rim. What else do they do? If you compare the wheels today with the ones from ancient times, there are more ...
37
votes
6answers
2k views

If I am travelling on a car at around 60 km/h, and I shine a light, does that mean that the light is travelling faster than the speed of light?

The title says it all. If I was on a bus at 60 km/h, and I started walking on the bus at a steady pace of 5 km/h, then I'd technically be moving at 65 km/h, right? So my son posed me an interesting ...
37
votes
3answers
2k views
37
votes
8answers
12k views

What practical issues remain for the adoption of Thorium reactors?

From what I've read on thorium reactors, there's enormous benefit to them. Their fuel is abundant enough to power human civilization for centuries, their fission products are relatively short-lived, ...
37
votes
8answers
1k views

Do all black holes have a singularity?

If a large star goes supernova, but not enough mass collapses to form a black hole, it often forms a neutron star. My understanding is that this is the densest object that can exist because of the ...
37
votes
5answers
3k views

Why are most metals gray/silver?

Why do most metals (iron, tin, aluminum, lead, zinc, tungsten, nickel, etc.) appear silver or gray in color? (What atomic characteristics determine the color?) What makes copper and gold have ...
37
votes
6answers
4k views

Pouring water in an aircraft while upside down?

What is the physics behind the following photo? Someone had told me that this is because the aircraft might be moving towards a lower altitude, but I am still not sure.
37
votes
6answers
2k views

How to treat differentials and infinitesimals?

In my Calculus class, my math teacher said that differentials such as $dx$ are not numbers, and should not be treated as such. In my physics class, it seems like we treat differentials exactly like ...
37
votes
5answers
3k views

Does Coulomb's Law, with Gauss's Law, imply the existence of only three spatial dimensions?

Coulomb's Law states that the fall-off of the strength of the electrostatic force is inversely proportional to the distance squared of the charges. Gauss's law implies that a the total flux through a ...
36
votes
6answers
1k views

Photons from stars--how do they fill in such large angular distances?

It would seem that far-away stars are at such a distance that I should be able to take a step to the side and not have the star's photons hit my eye. How do stars release so many photons to fill in ...

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