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
3k 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 ...
42
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. ...
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
15k 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
6answers
4k views

What physics paper would a high school student be able to read?

I'm looking for a physics paper which a typical high school student who is new to physics would be able to read and grasp the general idea of the purpose, setup and results, if not the details. To be ...
41
votes
9answers
16k 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, ...
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
7answers
3k views

Why do we have an elementary charge but no elementary mass?

Why do we have an elementary charge $e$ in physics but no elementary mass? Is an elementary mass ruled out by experiment or is an elementary mass forbidden by some theoretical reason?
40
votes
17answers
4k 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.
40
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?
40
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 ...
40
votes
9answers
3k views

Is the uncertainty principle a property of elementary particles or a result of our measurement tools?

In many physics divulgation books I've read, this seems to be a commonly accepted point of view (I'm making this quote up, as I don't remember the exact words, but this should give you an idea): ...
40
votes
4answers
8k 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 ...
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
3answers
3k views
40
votes
7answers
4k 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, ...
40
votes
8answers
3k views

In theory, could gravitational waves be used to make a “gravity laser”?

The sources I've read compare gravitational waves to electromagnetic waves. I'm curious to what extent this is. In theory, could gravity be harnessed in similar ways to how we've used electromagnetic ...
40
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 ...
40
votes
1answer
27k views

How does this “simple” electric train work?

In this YouTube video, a dry cell battery, a wound copper wire and a few magnets (see image below) are being used to create what can be described as "train". It looks fascinating but how does this ...
40
votes
6answers
27k 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. ...
39
votes
5answers
6k views

Why is the Moon considered the major cause of tides, even though it is weaker than the Sun?

You have likely read in books that tides are mainly caused by the Moon. When the Moon is high in the sky, it pulls the water on the Earth upward and a high-tide happens. There is some similar effect ...
39
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 ...
39
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 ...
39
votes
7answers
5k views

Why don't two musical instruments sometimes generate destructive interference?

I'm an electrical engineer, and I understand wave propagation, interference patterns, and so on. But I'm missing something basic, so perhaps my understanding isn't as good as I believe. I'll show my ...
39
votes
9answers
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 ...
39
votes
5answers
3k 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 ...
39
votes
6answers
7k 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.
39
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 ...
39
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 ...
39
votes
1answer
12k 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 ...
39
votes
5answers
3k 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 ...
39
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
7answers
10k views

Does electricity flow on the surface of a wire or in the interior?

I was having a conversation with my father and father-in-law, both of whom are in electric related work, and we came to a point where none of us knew how to proceed. I was under the impression that ...
38
votes
5answers
3k views

Why is the harmonic oscillator so important?

I've been wondering what makes the harmonic oscillator such an important model. What I came up with: It is a (relatively) simple system, making it a perfect example for physics students to learn ...
38
votes
5answers
9k 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 ...
38
votes
6answers
4k 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 ...
38
votes
4answers
4k views

Why has Earth's core not become solid?

The Earth is billions of years old, yet its core has not yet cooled down and become solid. Will this happen in the foreseeable future?
38
votes
6answers
3k views

How much air needs to be displaced to generate an audible sound?

I'm reading a book where in one scene a wizard/alchemist teleports a scroll after reading. He folded the parchment carefully and muttered a single cantrip. The note vanished with a small plop of ...
38
votes
3answers
8k views

How does water help extinguish fire?

How does water extinguish fire? Heat energy from the fire is transferred to the water, isn't that how it works? How does water deprive oxygen and stop combustion? How is the specific heat of water ...
38
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 ...
38
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 ...
38
votes
6answers
5k 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
5answers
10k 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 ...
38
votes
12answers
6k views

How can anything ever fall into a black hole as seen from an outside observer?

The event horizon of a black hole is where gravity is such that not even light can escape. This is also the point I understand that according to Einstein time dilation will be infinite for a ...
38
votes
7answers
19k 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 ...

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