43
votes
12answers
10k 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?
43
votes
5answers
5k 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 ...
43
votes
15answers
23k 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.
43
votes
4answers
2k views

Do gravitational lenses have a focus point?

Do gravitational lenses have a focus point? Could I burn space ants?
43
votes
3answers
4k views
43
votes
6answers
3k 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 ...
43
votes
8answers
4k 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 ...
43
votes
12answers
9k 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 ...
43
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 ...
43
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 ...
43
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?
43
votes
1answer
46k 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 ...
43
votes
6answers
3k 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?
43
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
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 ...
43
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 ...
42
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 ...
42
votes
15answers
71k 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 ...
42
votes
4answers
6k 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?
42
votes
6answers
4k views

Why does calculus of variations work?

How does it make sense to vary the position and the velocity independently? Edit: Velocity is the derivative of position, so how can you treat them as independent variables? Doesn't every physics ...
42
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 ...
42
votes
8answers
4k 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 ...
42
votes
8answers
7k 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 ...
42
votes
3answers
18k 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 ...
42
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 ...
42
votes
2answers
17k 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. ...
42
votes
4answers
4k 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 ...
42
votes
1answer
16k 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 ...
42
votes
5answers
7k 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 ...
41
votes
7answers
17k 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 ...
41
votes
5answers
4k 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 ...
41
votes
4answers
11k views

How do bicycle spokes work?

As you know, it is quite obvious that bicycle spokes attach the hub in the center to the rim. What else do they do? If you compare the wheels today with the ones from ancient times, there are more ...
41
votes
6answers
5k 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 ...
41
votes
8answers
8k views

Why does the speed of light in vacuum have no uncertainty?

I could understand that the definition of a second wouldn't have an uncertainty when related to the transition of the Cs atom, so it doesn't have an error because it's an absolute reference and we ...
41
votes
6answers
5k views

Do people wearing glasses have different field of view than those who don't?

There is one thing I sometimes wonder about ever since I was a child. Do people who wear eye glasses see objects in different size than those who don't?(Technically different size means different ...
41
votes
7answers
31k 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 ...
41
votes
5answers
8k 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?
41
votes
6answers
8k 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?
41
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, ...
41
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 ...
41
votes
6answers
4k views

Why do we still need to think of gravity as a force?

Firstly I think shades of this question have appeared elsewhere (like here, or here). Hopefully mine is a slightly different take on it. If I'm just being thick please correct me. We always hear ...
41
votes
6answers
8k 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.
41
votes
8answers
10k views

Why doesn't a bike/bicycle fall if going with a high speed?

Why does a bike/bicycle fall when its speed is very low or close to zero and is balanced when going with a high speed?
41
votes
9answers
3k 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 ...
41
votes
3answers
16k 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 ...
40
votes
4answers
6k views

Is Earth really a magnet?

I am a student of class 9. When I was going through magnetism and read that an earth is a magnet I got some doubts. My question is: is earth really a magnet? Doesn anyone have any proof that earth is ...
40
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 ...
40
votes
6answers
16k 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 ...
40
votes
6answers
6k views

Where do photons go when they are absorbed?

The answer I usually get (and I'm paraphrasing here) is that they disappear and are instead absorbed as heat energy. But I find it hard to believe that the photon simply "disappears." Common sense ...
40
votes
9answers
6k views

How would night sky look like if the speed of light was infinite?

Would it be brighter? Different color? Gravitational lensing? Would black holes exist?

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