68
votes
8answers
27k views

What's inside a proton?

What constitutes protons? When I see pictures, I can't understand. Protons are made of quarks, but some say that they are made of 99% empty space. Also, in this illustration from Wikipedia, what's ...
68
votes
6answers
10k views

Why does public mains power use 50-60 Hz and 100-240 V?

Is there a physical reason behind the frequency and voltage in the mains electricity? I do not want to know why exactly a certain value was chosen; I am rather interested to know why that range/order ...
68
votes
5answers
6k views

How do laser “tape measures” work?

There is a device available for about $\$40$, which fits in the palm of the hand, runs on two AA batteries, and can measure distances up to $50\,{\rm ft}$ to an accuracy of $\sim \frac{1}{8}''$ ($\sim ...
68
votes
10answers
9k views

Can Maxwell's equations be derived from Coulomb's Law and Special Relativity?

As an exercise I sat down and derived the magnetic field produced by moving charges for a few contrived situations. I started out with Coulomb's Law and Special Relativity. For example, I derived the ...
68
votes
4answers
4k views

Is temperature a Lorentz invariant in relativity?

If an observer starts moving at relativistic speeds will he observe the temperature of objects to change as compared to their rest temperatures? Suppose the rest temperature measured is $T$ and the ...
67
votes
5answers
8k 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 ...
67
votes
2answers
7k views

In the earth's crust, why is there far more uranium than gold?

In parts per million in the Earth's crust Uranium is around 1.8ppm and Gold 0.003ppm. Given that it takes far more energy to create Uranium than Gold, why is this?
67
votes
10answers
11k views

What makes running so much less energy-efficient than bicycling?

Most people can ride 10 km on their bike. However, running 10 km is a lot harder to do. Why? According to the law of conservation of energy, bicycling should be more intensive because you have to ...
67
votes
8answers
7k views

Does quantum mechanics play a role in the brain?

I'm interested in whether the scale of processes that occur in the brain is small enough to be affected by quantum mechanics. For instance, we ignore quantum mechanics when we analyze a game of tennis ...
67
votes
8answers
80k views

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

I was trying to unlock my car with a keyfob, 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: ...
67
votes
6answers
14k views

Which way does the scale tip?

I found the problem described in the attached picture on the internet. In the comment sections there were two opposing solutions. So it made me wonder which of those would be the actual solution. So ...
66
votes
8answers
47k 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 able to ...
66
votes
10answers
8k 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 ...
66
votes
3answers
6k views

Why do we need to “create our own” Higgs boson in order to see one?

I understand that the LHC found the Higgs boson by pumping so much energy into a tiny space (via near light speed proton-proton collisions) that a Higgs boson appeared momentarily, then instantly ...
66
votes
0answers
2k views

Experimental test of the non-statisticality theorem?

Context: The paper On the reality of the quantum state (Nature Physics 8, 475–478 (2012) or arXiv:1111.3328) shows under suitable assumptions that the quantum state cannot be interpreted as a ...
65
votes
5answers
12k views

Why is it cold on the sea floor if pressure heats things?

I was reading this and it says that Microsoft put a server farm at the bottom of the ocean because it's cooler there. Particularly it seems to imply that it get's colder as you go deeper, "Since ocean ...
65
votes
3answers
3k views

Why do travelling waves continue after amplitude sum = 0?

My professor asked an interesting question at the end of the last class, but I can't figure out the answer. The question is this (recalled from memory): There are two travelling wave pulses moving in ...
65
votes
3answers
9k views

Why doesn't the motion of a car affect the frequency of radio stations?

When we go in a car and tune to an FM radio station, why doesn't our motion disturb the frequency? Like the Doppler effect?
65
votes
2answers
45k views

On this infinite grid of resistors, what's the equivalent resistance?

I searched and couldn't find it on the site, so here it is (quoted to the letter): On this infinite grid of ideal one-ohm resistors, what's the equivalent resistance between the two marked nodes? ...
64
votes
2answers
8k views

Why do chimneys have these spiral “wings”?

While walking around I noticed something very peculiar. Many chimneys had spiral "wings", while others didn't. I came up with two possibilities: The wind circles around the chimney upwards which ...
64
votes
5answers
6k views

What challenges needed to be overcome to create (blue) LEDs?

In light of today's announcement of the 2014 Nobel laureates, and because of a discussion among colleagues about the physical significance of these devices, let me ask: What is the physical ...
64
votes
6answers
28k 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 ...
63
votes
7answers
12k views

When I boil a kettle, what stops all the water from turning (exploding!) in to steam in one go once it reaches 100°C?

While making a cup of tea in the office kitchen, a colleague asked me this question and neither of us could answer with any certainty. We're guessing it has something to do with the pressure of the ...
63
votes
3answers
111k views

Why can Hiroshima be inhabited when Chernobyl cannot?

There was an atomic bomb dropped in Hiroshima, but today there are residents in Hiroshima. However, in Chernobyl, where there was a nuclear reactor meltdown, there are no residents living today (or ...
62
votes
9answers
14k views

What's the point of Hamiltonian mechanics?

I've just finished a Classical Mechanics course, and looking back on it some things are not quite clear. In the first half we covered the Lagrangian formalism, which I thought was pretty cool. I ...
61
votes
11answers
23k views

Is it possible that there is a color our human eye can't see?

Is it possible that there's a color that our eye couldn't see? Like all of us are color blind to it. If there is, is it possible to detect/identify it?
61
votes
8answers
11k views

Why is quantum entanglement considered to be an active link between particles?

From everything I've read about quantum mechanics and quantum entanglement phenomena, it's not obvious to me why quantum entanglement is considered to be an active link. That is, it's stated every ...
61
votes
3answers
8k views

Why didn't the Big Bang create heavy elements?

In the case of a supernova explosion it is possible to create heavy elements through fusion. Supernovae have a tremendous amount of energy in a very small volume but not as much energy per volume as ...
61
votes
7answers
25k views

What Is Energy? Where did it come from?

The simplistic undergrad explanation aside. I've never really understood what energy really is. I've been told that it's something when converted from one kind of something to another kind does some "...
61
votes
8answers
5k 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 ...
60
votes
3answers
25k views

Why can we see the dust particles in a narrow beam of light (and not in an all lighted area)?

Let us say that I am sitting in a room with all the drapes open. Bright sunlight is coming through the window. The whole room is brilliantly lighted. I will not be able to see the dust particles ...
60
votes
6answers
8k views

Why don't choir voices destructively interfere so that we can't hear them?

Sound is propagated by waves. Waves can interfere. Suppose there are two tenors standing next to each other and each singing a continuous middle-C. Will it be the case that some people in the ...
60
votes
8answers
5k views

Turbulent spacetime from Einstein equation?

It is well known that the fluid equations (Euler equation, Navier-Stokes, ...), being non-linear, may have highly turbulent solutions. Of course, these solutions are non-analytical. The laminar flow ...
59
votes
9answers
6k views

What are the next generation physics experiments? [closed]

The LHC and LIGO are two recent examples of hugely ambitious experiments in fundamental physics, both of which took decades to develop. What are the next major experiments currently being planned and ...
59
votes
3answers
8k views

How can ants carry items much heavier than themselves?

This morning I saw an ant and suddenly a question came to my mind: how do ants actually carry items much heavier than themselves? What's the difference (in physics) between us and them?
59
votes
8answers
54k views

With Newton's third law, why are things capable of moving?

I've got a rather humiliating question considering newton's third law "If an object A exterts a force on object B, then object B exerts an equal but opposite force on object A" -> $F_1=-F_2$ ...
59
votes
11answers
12k 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 ...
59
votes
5answers
6k views

If dark matter only interacts with gravity, why doesn't it all clump together in a single point?

I'm a complete layperson. As I understand, dark matter theoretically only interacts with the gravitational force, and doesn't interact with the other three fundamental forces: weak nuclear force, ...
59
votes
2answers
7k views

Does the Planck scale imply that spacetime is discrete?

On a quantum scale the smallest unit is the Planck scale, which is a discrete measure. There several question that come to mind: Does that mean that particles can only live in a discrete grid-like ...
58
votes
6answers
6k views

How can we see planets thousands of light years away but don't know if there are more planets in the solar system?

That is basically my question, it arose when I saw an article (here is the scientific paper, which should be free to read) saying two Caltech scientists might have found the 9th planet of the solar ...
58
votes
8answers
7k views

Will a blanket warm you if you are underwater?

Suppose a man falls into very cold water and gets their foot stuck under a heavy rock. Fortunately, his head is above water and someone is able to call for help. The paramedics want to keep him warm ...
58
votes
5answers
6k views

Is there a small enough planet or asteroid you can orbit by jumping?

I just had this idea of orbiting a planet just by jumping and then flying upon it on its orbit kind of like superman. So, Would it be theoretically possible or is there a chance of that small body to ...
58
votes
4answers
6k views

What is this shadow being cast upon?

The picture below is from on top of Mt. Shasta at sunrise. The sun was directly behind me when I took the picture and it appears to be casting a shadow on.... the sky itself? Can anyone explain ...
58
votes
1answer
8k views

If we had a “perfectly efficient” computer and all the energy in the Milky-way available, what number could it count to?

The idea for this question comes from an example in cryptography, where supposedly 256-bit symmetric keys will be enough for all time to come (brute-forcing a 256-bit key is sort-of equivalent to ...
57
votes
8answers
26k views

Does centrifugal force exist?

Currently in my last year of high school, and I have always been told that centrifugal force does not exist by my physics teachers. Today my girlfriend in the year below asked me what centrifugal ...
57
votes
5answers
16k 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 ...
57
votes
7answers
20k views

Does gravity exist in a vacuum?

My understanding has always been that it does from conventional science courses, but really thinking about it, I was wondering if this is really the case. To my limited understanding there is a ...
57
votes
3answers
2k views

What causes insects to cast large shadows from where their feet are?

I recently stumbled upon this interesting image of a wasp, floating on water: Assuming this isn't photoshopped, I have a couple of questions: Why do you see its image like that (what's the ...
57
votes
2answers
8k 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 ...
56
votes
4answers
12k views

Moon's pull causes tides on far side of Earth: why?

I have always wondered and once I even got it, but then completely forgot. I understand that gravity causes high and low tides in oceans, but why does it occur on the other side of Earth?

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