47
votes
12answers
10k 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 ...
47
votes
2answers
4k 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 ...
47
votes
1answer
1k 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 ...
46
votes
11answers
7k 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 ...
46
votes
8answers
10k views

Why does holding something up cost energy while no work is being done?

I read the definition of work as $$W ~=~ \vec{F} \cdot \vec{d}$$ $$\text{ Work = (Force) $\cdot$ (Distance)}.$$ If a book is there on the table, no work is done as no distance is covered. If I ...
46
votes
7answers
15k 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 ...
46
votes
5answers
3k views

What is information?

We're all familiar with basic tenets such as "information cannot be transmitted faster than light" and ideas such as information conservation in scenarios like Hawking radiation (and in general, ...
45
votes
5answers
10k 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 ...
45
votes
5answers
6k views

A list of inconveniences between quantum mechanics and (general) relativity?

It is well known that quantum mechanics and (general) relativity do not fit well. I am wondering whether it is possible to make a list of contradictions or problems between them? E.g. relativity ...
45
votes
10answers
6k 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 ...
45
votes
8answers
18k views

Why don't electrons crash into the nuclei they “orbit”?

I'm having trouble understanding the simple "planetary" model of the atom that I'm being taught in my basic chemistry course. In particular, I can't see how a negatively charged electron can stay ...
45
votes
8answers
2k 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 ...
45
votes
1answer
8k 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 ...
45
votes
4answers
6k views

What is spin as it relates to subatomic particles?

I often hear about subatomic particles having a property called "spin" but also that it doesn't actually relate to spinning about an axis like you would think. Which particles have spin? What does ...
44
votes
7answers
5k views

What justifies dimensional analysis?

Dimensional analysis, and the notion that quantities with different units cannot be equal, is often used to justify very specific arguments, for example, you might use it to argue that a particular ...
44
votes
11answers
4k views

Why isn't length contraction permanent even though time dilation is?

It's my understanding that when something is going near the speed of light in reference to an observer, time dilation occurs and time goes slower for that fast-moving object. However, when that ...
44
votes
3answers
8k views

Can kicking a falling phone save it from shattering?

So I saw this tip but I don't think this is true, it would be that your leg or shoe is more flexible than a hard floor so the momentum change would be slower right?
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
1answer
2k views

Why does our voice sound different on inhaling helium?

This question (and answer) is an attempt to clear the air on what appears to be a very simple issue, with conflicting or unclear explanations on the internet. Arguments, negations, etc are invited. ...
44
votes
12answers
13k views

What happens to the energy when waves perfectly cancel each other?

What happens to the energy when waves perfectly cancel each other (destructive interference)? It appears that the energy "disappear" but the law of conservation of energy states that it can't be ...
44
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 ...
44
votes
2answers
773 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), ...
44
votes
0answers
1k 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), ...
43
votes
7answers
7k views

What technology can result from such expensive experiment as undertaken in CERN?

I wonder what technology can be obtained from such very expensive experiments/institutes as e.g. undertaken in CERN? I understand that e.g. the discovery of the Higgs Boson confirms our understanding ...
43
votes
2answers
19k 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 ...
43
votes
7answers
23k 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" -> $F_1=-F_2$ ...
43
votes
11answers
9k views

Why does dust stick to rotating fan propeller?

Why does dust stick to rotating fan propeller? Intuitively, most people (including I) think of the dust will not stick to rotating fan propellers. EDIT 1: Thank you for the great explanations. I am ...
43
votes
4answers
5k 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 ...
43
votes
8answers
4k 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 ...
42
votes
7answers
7k 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 ...
42
votes
6answers
2k 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 ...
42
votes
5answers
4k views

What enables protons to give new properties to an atom every time one is added?

How does adding one more particle to the nucleus of an atom give that atom new properties? I can see how it changes it's mass, that's obvious... But how does it give that new atom different properties ...
42
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 ...
42
votes
5answers
5k 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, ...
42
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 ...
42
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 ...
42
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 ...
42
votes
7answers
5k 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 ...
42
votes
2answers
2k views

Neutrinos vs. Photons: Who wins the race across the galaxy?

Inspired by the wording of this answer, a thought occurred to me. If a photon and a neutrino were to race along a significant stretch of our actual galaxy, which would win the race? Now, neutrinos ...
41
votes
5answers
14k views

How effective is speeding?

At a simple level, speeding in a car attempts to minimize the time required to travel a distance by utilizing the basic relationship: $$d=st$$ So for a given distance, time should be inversely ...
41
votes
4answers
5k views

When a star becomes a black hole, does its gravitational field strength become stronger?

I've seen in a documentary that when a star collapses and becomes a black hole, it starts to eat the planets around. But it has the same mass, so how does its gravitational field strength increase?
41
votes
4answers
8k views

If I'm floating in space and I turn on a flashlight, will I accelerate?

Photons have no mass but they can push things, as evidenced by laser propulsion. Can photons push the source which is emitting them? If yes, will a more intense flashlight accelerate me more? Does ...
41
votes
5answers
12k views

How exactly does gravity work?

The electromagnetic force and strong and weak forces require particles like photons and gluons. But in case of gravity there is no such particle found. Every mass bearing object creates a ...
41
votes
7answers
4k 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 ...
41
votes
2answers
5k views

Why Do Sausages Always Split Lengthwise?

Sausages universally split parallel to the length of the sausage. Why is that?
41
votes
2answers
7k 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?
41
votes
1answer
2k views

What happened to David John Candlin?

This is an ultra-soft question about relatively recent history. While reading some of Mandelstam's papers, I noticed that he cites David John Candlin consistenly whenever he does anything with ...
40
votes
4answers
2k views

Do gravitational lenses have a focus point?

Do gravitational lenses have a focus point? Could I burn space ants?
40
votes
3answers
5k views

Why do the big nuts always remain at top? The Brazil-nut Effect

Most of the time I mixed different nuts in a bowl, I observed that the big Brazil nuts were always at top while the small peanuts settled near the base. No matter how you take it, if the big nuts are ...
40
votes
8answers
5k 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 ...

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