47
votes
2answers
8k 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 ...
47
votes
7answers
3k 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 ...
47
votes
11answers
6k views

What is spontaneous symmetry breaking in QUANTUM systems?

Most descriptions of spontaneous symmetry breaking, even for spontaneous symmetry breaking in quantum systems, actually only give a classical picture. According to the classical picture, spontaneous ...
47
votes
5answers
4k 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 ...
47
votes
4answers
87k views

Why do grapes in a microwave oven produce plasma?

Some of you may know this experience (Grape + Microwave oven = Plasma video link): take a grape that you almost split in two parts, letting just a tiny piece of skin making a link between each ...
47
votes
2answers
886 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), ...
46
votes
7answers
8k 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 ...
46
votes
17answers
5k 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.
46
votes
15answers
81k views

What is a good introductory book on quantum mechanics?

I'm really interested in quantum theory and would like to learn all that I can about it. I've followed a few tutorials and read a few books but none satisfied me completely. I'm looking for ...
46
votes
3answers
7k views

Why do electric sparks appear blue/purple?

Electric sparks tend to appear blue or purple or white in color. Why?
46
votes
6answers
5k views

Why does a system try to minimize its total energy?

Why does a system like to minimize its total energy? For example, the total energy of a $H_2$ molecule is smaller than the that of two two isolated hydrogen atoms and that is why two $H$ atoms tries ...
46
votes
5answers
7k 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 ...
46
votes
6answers
5k 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 ...
46
votes
2answers
19k 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. ...
46
votes
5answers
12k 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 ...
46
votes
3answers
19k views

Why is the sky not purple?

I realise the question of why this sky is blue is considered reasonably often here, one way or another. You can take that knowledge as given. What I'm wondering is, given that the spectrum of ...
46
votes
5answers
22k views

Why glass is transparent?

Once I asked this question from my teacher and he replied "because it passes light", "and why it passes light" I asked and he said "because it is transparent". Same question again, Why glass is ...
46
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 ...
46
votes
7answers
7k 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 ...
46
votes
0answers
2k views

On the Coulomb branch of N=2 supersymmetric gauge theory

The chiral ring of the Coulomb branch of a 4D $N=2$ supersymmetric gauge theory is given by the Casimirs of the vector multiplet scalars, and they don't have non-trivial relations; the Casimirs are ...
45
votes
8answers
53k views

Will a hole cut into a metal disk expand or shrink when the disc is heated?

Suppose you take a metal disc and cut a small, circular hole in the center. When you heat the whole thing, will the hole's diameter increase or decrease? and why?
45
votes
2answers
6k views

Why are gold mirrors yellow?

Why are golden mirrors yellow? Do they add a yellow component to the spectrum or absorb non-yellow components? If they absorb, then why are they used in telescopes being imperfect? If they add a ...
45
votes
7answers
4k 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 ...
45
votes
1answer
6k views

What conservation law corresponds to Lorentz boosts?

Noether's Theorem is used to related the invariance under certain continuous transformations to conserved currents. A common example is that translations in spacetime correspond to the conservation of ...
45
votes
5answers
8k views

What is the physical meaning of commutators in quantum mechanics?

This is a question I've been asked several times by students and I tend to have a hard time phrasing it in terms they can understand. This is a natural question to ask and it is not usually well ...
45
votes
6answers
46k 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. ...
45
votes
5answers
3k views

Is there a Lagrangian formulation of statistical mechanics?

In statistical mechanics, we usually think in terms of the Hamiltonian formalism. At a particular time $t$, the system is in a particular state, where "state" means the generalised coordinates and ...
45
votes
1answer
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?
44
votes
5answers
7k 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 ...
44
votes
7answers
3k 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 ...
44
votes
5answers
6k views

Why is the prospective new kilogram standard a sphere?

I can understand the choice of material, silicon 28, but why is it a sphere rather than (say) a cube? Article here I would have thought that a sphere would have been the hardest shape to machine ...
44
votes
13answers
3k views

Lagrangians not of the form $T-U$

My Physics teacher was reluctant to define Lagrangian as Kinetic Energy minus Potential Energy because he said that there were cases where a system's Lagrangian did not take this form. Are you are ...
44
votes
12answers
11k 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?
44
votes
7answers
33k views

Is anti-matter matter going backwards in time?

Or: can it be proved that anti-matter definitely is nót matter going backwards in time? From wikipedia: There is considerable speculation as to why the observable universe is apparently almost ...
44
votes
3answers
4k views
44
votes
4answers
44k views

Why do same/opposite electric charges repel/attract each other, respectively?

I know plus pushes another plus away, but why, really, do they do that? On the other hand, molecules of the same type are attracted to each other. I find that weird. I do know some stuff about four ...
44
votes
2answers
6k views

Why Do Sausages Always Split Lengthwise?

Sausages universally split parallel to the length of the sausage. Why is that?
44
votes
10answers
28k views

How exactly does curved space-time describe the force of gravity?

I understand that people explain (in layman's terms at least) that the presence of mass "warps" space-time geometry, and this causes gravity. I have also of course heard the analogy of a blanket or ...
44
votes
9answers
18k 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, ...
44
votes
9answers
4k views

Why are differential equations for fields in physics of order two?

What is the reason for the observation that across the board fields in physics are generally governed by second order (partial) differential equations? If someone on the street would flat out ask ...
44
votes
1answer
18k 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 ...
44
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?
44
votes
4answers
5k 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
6answers
4k 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?
44
votes
7answers
3k 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. ...
43
votes
6answers
6k views

If I run along the aisle of a bus traveling at (almost) the speed of light, can I travel faster than the speed of light?

Let's say I fire a bus through space at (almost) the speed of light in vacuum. If I'm inside the bus (sitting on the back seat) and I run up the aisle of the bus toward the front, does that mean I'm ...
43
votes
3answers
7k views

Can radioactivity be slowed through time dilation?

Can radioactivity be slowed using the effect of time dilation? If you put cesium, tritium or uranium in a cyclotron at relativisitic speeds, do their half lives become longer in our frame? Could ...
43
votes
5answers
15k 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 ...
43
votes
6answers
6k 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 ...
43
votes
3answers
6k views

Why should the Planck constant be a constant throughout all space?

Our value for the Planck constant $h$ can be found on experiments on Earth, but how do we know that the Planck constant doesn't change throughout space, for instance it depends weakly upon the ...

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