38
votes
7answers
6k views

Are we slightly lighter during the day and slightly heavier at night, owing to the force of the Sun's gravity?

Using $g = \frac{Gm}{r^2}$, the force on a point mass located at 1 AU from the Sun ($m = 2 \cdot 10^{30} \text{ kg}$) is about ~0.006 N/kg. Does that mean that, e.g., a 70 kg person is ~42g lighter ...
38
votes
6answers
4k views

Without seeing the lightning, can you tell how far away it struck by how the thunder sounds?

Is there any way to tell how far away a lightning strike is by how its thunder sounds? I thought one way might be by using the fact that higher frequencies travel faster than lower frequencies. Would ...
38
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 ...
38
votes
2answers
1k views

Why do stickers curl?

When peeling a sticker off its base, the immediate reaction is that it curls; why is this? I am having trouble finding an answer to this. Could it be that the glued side expands upon contact with the ...
38
votes
2answers
6k views

What can the D-Wave quantum computer do?

The media are reporting the commercially sold 128-bit quantum computer from D-Wave http://news.google.com/news?ned=us&hl=us&q=d-wave+quantum&cf=all&scoring=n which of course ...
38
votes
5answers
20k views

Why do power lines buzz?

When near high tension power lines, particularly after a good rain, the lines themselves emit a buzzing noise. A similar noise can be heard coming out of the electric meters attached to my apartment. ...
38
votes
2answers
723 views

Symmetries of the Standard Model: exact, anomalous, spontaneously broken

There are a number of possible symmetries in fundamental physics, such as: Lorentz invariance (or actually, Poincaré invariance, which can itself be broken down into translation invariance and ...
37
votes
13answers
9k views

Home experiments to derive the speed of light?

Are there any experiments I can do to derive the speed of light with only common household tools?
37
votes
6answers
5k views

Is there a physical reason for colors to be located in a very narrow band of the EM spectrum?

The portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to humans are wavelengths between 380 and 750 nanometers. I am aware that animals have different capacities than humans, but the EM ...
37
votes
6answers
3k 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
6answers
2k views

What keeps mass from turning into energy?

I understand the energy and mass can change back and forth according to Einstein. It is fluid; it can go from one to the other. So, what keeps mass from just turning into energy? Is there some force ...
37
votes
5answers
6k views

Why does cold metal seem colder than cold air?

(I apologize for this elementary question. I don't know much about physics.) Let's say that I put a metal pot in the refrigerator for several hours. At this point, I guess, the pot and the air (in ...
37
votes
8answers
4k 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 ...
37
votes
6answers
6k views

Why do lasers cut? Is this a case of light acting as matter?

All I found in Google was very broad. From a physics models perspective, why can photons emitted from a laser cut? Does this cut mean that the photons are acting like matter?
37
votes
4answers
2k views

How far ahead can we predict solar and lunar eclipses?

The solar system is non-integrable and has chaos. The sun-earth-moon three-body system might be chaotic. So, how far into the future can we predict solar eclipses and/or lunar eclipses? How about ...
37
votes
8answers
3k views

Do Maxwell's Equations overdetermine the electric and magnetic fields?

Maxwell's equations specify two vector and two scalar (differential) equations. That implies 8 components in the equations. But between vector fields $\vec{E}=(E_x,E_y,E_z)$ and ...
37
votes
1answer
9k views

Rubber band stretched produces heat and when released absorbs heat.. Why?

I always used to wonder why this happens.. when one stretches a rubberband to nearly it snapping point holding it close to your skin - preferably cheek(helps feel the heat), it emits heat. While ...
37
votes
7answers
2k views

Is 3+1 spacetime as privileged as is claimed?

I've often heard the argument that having 3 spatial dimensions is very special. Such arguments are invariably based on certain assumptions that do not appear to be justifiable at all, at least to me. ...
36
votes
5answers
17k 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" -> $F_1=-F_2$ ...
36
votes
8answers
3k views

Is there something similar to Noether's theorem for discrete symmetries?

Noether's theorem states that, for every continuous symmetry of a system, there exists a conserved quantity, e.g. energy conservation for time invariance, charge conservation for $U(1)$. Is there any ...
36
votes
2answers
2k views

Intuitively, why are bundles so important in Physics?

This question probably seems silly and I don't really know if it fits properly here, but the point is the following: I've seem the notion of bundles, fiber bundles, connections on bundles and so on ...
36
votes
7answers
14k views

How can two seas not mix?

How can two seas not mix? I think this is commonly known and the explanation everyone gives is "because they have different densities". What I get is that they eventually will mix, but this process ...
36
votes
2answers
2k views

Why are our planets in the solar system all on the same disc/plane/layer?

I always see pictures of the solar system where our sun is in the middle and the planets surround the sun. All these planets move on orbits on the same layer. Why?
36
votes
7answers
2k views

Massless charged particles

Are there any massless (zero invariant mass) particles carrying electric charge? If not, why not? Do we expect to see any or are they a theoretical impossibility?
35
votes
5answers
5k views

Why doesn't light kill me?

I was attending my philosophy class and in the middle of student presentations, I found myself mentally wondering off and thinking about light. After a few minutes of trying to piece together how the ...
35
votes
13answers
9k views

Why is cold fusion considered bogus?

Cold fusion is being mentioned a lot lately because of some new setup that apparently works. This is an unverified claim. See for example: ...
35
votes
6answers
5k views

How can the Earth keep spinning with a liquid core?

In regards to the 'conservation of angular momentum' being the explanation of why celestial objects spin... If you fill a ball or any other container with a liquid and try to spin it, you will not ...
35
votes
14answers
3k views

Why quantum mechanics?

Imagine you're teaching a first course on quantum mechanics in which your students are well-versed in classical mechanics, but have never seen any quantum before. How would you motivate the subject ...
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 ...
35
votes
6answers
39k views

Could someone jump from the international space station and live?

Felix Baumgartner just completed his breathtaking free-fall skydiving jump from $120,000\,\text{feet} = 39\,\text{km}$ above the Earth, breaking the speed of sound during the process. I was wondering ...
35
votes
10answers
4k views

Classic home experiments for an 8-year-old child

My 8-year-old daughter's school report says that she's good at understanding the basic science she's doing, but she's having trouble seeing how experimental results lead to conclusions. Specifically, ...
35
votes
5answers
2k views

Scattering of light by light: experimental status

Scattering of light by light does not occur in the solutions of Maxwell's equations (since they are linear and EM waves obey superposition), but it is a prediction of QED (the most significant Feynman ...
35
votes
2answers
12k views

Lev Landau's “Theoretical Minimum”

The great russian physicist Lev Landau developed a famous entry exam to test his students. This "Theoretical Minimum" contained everything he considered elementary for a young theoretical physicist. ...
35
votes
2answers
516 views

Physical interpretation of different selfadjoint extensions

Given a symmetric (densely defined) operator in a Hilbert space, there might be quite a lot of selfadjoint extensions to it. This might be the case for a Schrödinger operator with a "bad" potential. ...
35
votes
3answers
2k views

What is going on in front of and behind a fan?

Why is it that when you drop paper behind a fan, it drops, and is not blown/sucked into the fan, whereas if you drop paper in front of a fan, it is blown away?
34
votes
5answers
6k views

Why aren't there spherical galaxies? [duplicate]

According to the Wikipedia page on Galaxy Types, there are four main kinds of galaxies: Spirals - as the name implies, these look like huge spinning spirals with curved "arms" branching out ...
34
votes
4answers
4k views

Why is Earth's climate so stable?

Earth wasn't always the only water-world in the solar system. Mars also appear to have started out wet but, as conditions changed, Mars lost its oceans. So, how has Earth managed to avoid a ...
34
votes
7answers
6k views

If we suddenly lost track of time, how would we know what time is now? [duplicate]

If we hypothetically lost all watches and all devices that keep track of time, how would we say what is the current time? Or we actually don't and time is just a convention?
34
votes
7answers
4k views

“Falling upward” - how far you have to be from Earth to start falling to the Moon?

Talking about gravity with my 9 y/o she asked when do we start "falling upward" to the Moon. What is the distance at which the Moon's gravitational attraction is higher than that of the Earth and thus ...
34
votes
6answers
8k views

Why does ice melting not change the water level in a container?

I have read the explanation for this in several textbooks, but I am struggling to understand it via Archimedes' principle. If someone can clarify with a diagram or something so I can understand or a ...
34
votes
4answers
290 views

Models of neutrinos consistent with OPERA's results

I guess by now most people have heard about the new paper (arXiv:1109.4897) by the OPERA collaboration which claims to have observed superluminal neutrinos with 6$\sigma$ significance. Obviously this ...
34
votes
3answers
2k views

Can the solar system really fit in a thimble?

Almost every time somebody talks about atoms, at some point they mention something like this: If we remove the spaces between the atoms and atomic components, we can fit the solar system in a ...
34
votes
4answers
5k views

Does time move slower at the equator?

While answering the question GPS Satellite - Special Relativity it occurred to me that time would run more slowly at the equator than at the North Pole, because the surface of the Earth is moving at ...
34
votes
7answers
10k views

Is a hard drive heavier when it is full?

Browsing Quora, I saw the following question with contradicting answers. For the highest voted answer: The bits are represented by certain orientations of magnetic fields which shouldn't have ...
34
votes
4answers
3k views

Trace of a commutator is zero - but what about the commutator of $x$ and $p$?

Operators can be cyclically interchanged inside a trace: $${\rm Tr} (AB)~=~{\rm Tr} (BA).$$ This means the trace of a commutator of any two operators is zero: $${\rm Tr} ([A,B])~=~0.$$ But what about ...
34
votes
5answers
8k views

Is fire plasma?

Is Fire a Plasma? If not, what is it then? If yes why, don't we teach kids this basic example? UPDATE: I probably meant a regular commonplace fire of the usual temperature. That should simplify ...
34
votes
5answers
2k views

If photon energies are continuous and atomic energy levels are discrete, how can atoms absorb photons?

If photon energies are continuous and atomic energy levels are discrete, how can atoms absorb photons? The probability of a photon having just the right amount of energy for an atomic transition is ...
34
votes
3answers
2k views

Wind generators - why so few blades?

Why commercial wind generators usually have just 2-3 blades? Having more blades would allow to increase power OR decrease diameter. Decreased diameter would also reduce stress due to different wind ...
34
votes
4answers
10k views

What causes ballpoint pens to write intermittently?

After a while, a ball point pen doesn't write very well anymore. It will write for a little distance, then leave a gap, then maybe write in little streaks, then maybe write properly again. It seems ...
34
votes
2answers
824 views

How trustworthy are numerically-obtained periodic solutions to the three body problem?

I recently found out about the discovery of 13 beautiful periodic solutions to the three-body problem, described in the paper Three Classes of Newtonian Three-Body Planar Periodic Orbits. Milovan ...

15 30 50 per page