56
votes
7answers
7k views

How did my candle wax crawl up the sides of the jar?

I have an Ikea candle which has sat on my bookshelf in the sun for >5 years. Aside from an hour or two shortly after I bought the candle, I have not burned the candle regularly (in fact, the wick is ...
56
votes
4answers
9k 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 ...
55
votes
8answers
6k 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 ...
55
votes
3answers
10k views

Why do beams of light (from torches or other directed sources) not extend to infinity?

When I'm in a dark environment, and I turn on a torch, I can see the beam of light from the torch. To the best of my understanding, the main reason why I can see the beam of light is that the light ...
55
votes
4answers
12k views

Do gravitational waves travel faster than light?

In Feb 12, 2016 edition of Times of India, an article read [with the discovery of gravitational waves, we will be able to] Track Supernovas hours before they're visible to any telescope because ...
55
votes
2answers
6k 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 ...
54
votes
5answers
8k views

Why do atomic clocks only use caesium?

Modern atomic clocks only use caesium atoms as oscillators. Why don't we use other atoms for this role?
54
votes
6answers
6k views

Can a Skydiver Land On a Large Slide and Survive?

Please forgive my lack of artistic ability, but here's my question: Consider that a skydiver, without using his parachute, were to fall exactly parallel to a giant curved slide that starts at $90\,^\...
54
votes
3answers
5k views

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

Most of the time when I mixed different nuts in a bowl, I observed that the big Brazil nuts were always on top while the small peanuts settled near the base. No matter how you take it, if the big nuts ...
54
votes
4answers
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, ...
54
votes
12answers
29k 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 ...
54
votes
2answers
4k views

Intuitively, why are bundles so important in Physics?

I've seem the notion of bundles, fiber bundles, connections on bundles and so on being used in many different places on Physics. Now, in mathematics a bundle is introduced to generalize the ...
54
votes
1answer
3k 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 ...
53
votes
49answers
10k views

Common false beliefs in Physics [closed]

Well, in Mathematics there are somethings, which appear true but they aren't true. Naive students often get fooled by these results. Let me consider a very simple example. As a child one learns this ...
53
votes
3answers
9k views

How is 6W equivalent to 40W, as claimed by adverts for LED light bulbs?

Every advert I come across for LED bulbs advertise them as the equivalent of a higher W incandescent bulbs. This makes no sense to me, if the room requires 40W to lighten it up then it'll always ...
53
votes
8answers
12k views

If the speed of light is constant, why can't it escape a black hole?

When speed is the path traveled in a given time and the path is constant, as it is for $c$, why can't light escape a black hole? It may take a long time to happen but shouldn't there be some light ...
53
votes
4answers
10k 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 ...
53
votes
4answers
3k views

GR and my journey to the centre of the Earth

[General Relativity] basically says that the reason you are sticking to the floor right now is that the shortest distance between today and tomorrow is through the center of the Earth. I love ...
52
votes
3answers
5k views

Why does the sun have to be nearly fully covered to notice any darkening in an eclipse?

I was looking at eclipse footage and I noticed that it doesn't get any noticeably darker until the very end when it suddenly all the light is gone. As the moon blocks out the Sun, I would expect that ...
52
votes
4answers
5k views

Do solar systems typically spin in the same direction as their galaxy?

Is the net angular momentum vector of our solar system pointing in roughly the same direction as the Milky Way galaxy's net angular momentum vector? If yes or no, is that common for most stars in the ...
52
votes
2answers
7k views

Why is the Sun almost perfectly spherical?

Relatively recent measurements indicate that the Sun is nearly the roundest object ever measured. If scaled to the size of a beach ball, it would be so round that the difference between the widest ...
52
votes
1answer
16k 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 ...
52
votes
5answers
4k 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, ...
52
votes
3answers
4k views

How small does sand have to be to get wet?

I think of sand as a lot of very small rocks. Suppose I have a pile of rocks, each about 1cm in size, and the pile is a meter tall. If I pour a bucket of water on the rocks, most of the water will ...
52
votes
12answers
16k 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 ...
51
votes
8answers
26k 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 ...
51
votes
14answers
5k 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 ...
51
votes
6answers
8k views

Why would a spinning space station create a centrifugal force on an astronaut rather than simply spinning around him/her?

We often see films with spinning space station that create artificial gravity by having the astronauts pulled outwards by centrifugal force. I'd like to know if this would really happen, and if so, ...
51
votes
4answers
13k views

Can a tomato pierce a hole in a steel plate if only the tomato is travelling fast enough?

A tomato is travelling very fast towards a 1 cm thick steel plate. Let's say this happened in a vacuum, so that the air resistance wouldn't rip the tomato apart before it even hit the steel plate. ...
51
votes
1answer
7k views

Is it possible to “see” atoms?

As per my knowledge, atoms are small beyond our imaginations. But there is an image on Wikipedia that shows silicon atoms observed at the surface of silicon carbide crystals. The image: How can we ...
51
votes
10answers
5k views

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

Noether's theorem states that, for every continuous symmetry of an action, there exists a conserved quantity, e.g. energy conservation for time invariance, charge conservation for $U(1)$. Is there any ...
51
votes
11answers
6k 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 ...
51
votes
5answers
5k 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 ...
51
votes
8answers
7k 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 ...
50
votes
8answers
14k views

Short of collision, can gravity itself kill you?

Imagine that you are falling into object with huge gravity (i.e. black hole) that does not have any atmosphere. The question is - before you hit the ground, can the gravity itself (which would be ...
50
votes
15answers
31k views

Getting started self-studying general relativity

What are some good books, videos, websites for getting started with general relativity? I would prefer mathematically rigorous sources.
50
votes
5answers
18k 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 ...
50
votes
5answers
8k 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, ...
50
votes
9answers
4k 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 ...
50
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. I'...
50
votes
5answers
5k 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 ...
49
votes
5answers
5k views

Which is more fundamental, Fields or Particles?

I hope that I am using appropriate terminology. My confusion about quantum theory (beyond my obvious unfamiliarity with its terminology) is basically twofold: I lack an adequate understanding of ...
49
votes
5answers
6k 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 ...
49
votes
11answers
14k 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 ...
49
votes
6answers
29k 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 ...
49
votes
4answers
4k views

Why does moonlight have a lower color temperature?

Moonlight has a color temperature of 4100K, while sunlight has a higher color temperature of more than 5000K. But objects illuminated by moonlight don't look yellower to the eye. They look bluer. ...
49
votes
2answers
7k 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 ...
48
votes
3answers
7k views

Why doesn't light affect a compass?

In our daily life a lot of photons of visible light, infrared and radio etc move around us. We know that light is an electromagnetic radiation. So why doesn't that electromagnetic radiation affect a ...
48
votes
5answers
7k views

Why do archery arrows tilt downwards in their descent?

In the movies, arrows shot into the air rotate so that during the descent, the arrow head hits ground first. What is the source of this angular momentum? It would seem that the bow string exerts a ...
48
votes
9answers
13k views

Why is it said that without quantum mechanics we would not have modern computers?

I've heard this in many quantum mechanics talks and lectures, nevertheless I don't seem to grasp the idea behind it. What I mean is, at which point is that our modern understanding of quantum ...

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