324
votes
19answers
122k views

Cooling a cup of coffee with help of a spoon

During the breakfast with my colleagues, a question popped into my head: What is the fastest method to cool a cup of coffee, if your only available instrument is a spoon? A qualitative answer would ...
167
votes
17answers
53k views

A mirror flips left and right, but not up and down

Why is it that when you look in the mirror left and right directions appear flipped, but not the up and down?
158
votes
11answers
33k views

Why don't metals bond when touched together?

It is my understanding that metals are a crystal lattice of ions, held together by delocalized electrons, which move freely through the lattice (and conduct electricity, heat, etc.). If two pieces ...
130
votes
13answers
9k views

How does gravity escape a black hole?

My understanding is that light can not escape from within a black hole (within the event horizon). I've also heard that information cannot propagate faster than the speed of light. It would seem to ...
118
votes
3answers
37k views

Surviving under water in air bubble

An incredible news story today is about a man who survived for two days at the bottom of the sea (~30 m deep) in a capsized boat, in an air bubble that formed in a corner of the boat. He was ...
108
votes
15answers
30k views

How do I explain to a 6 year old why people on the other side of the Earth don't fall off? [closed]

Today a friend's 6 year old sister asked me the question "why don't people on the other side of the earth fall off?". I tried to explain that the Earth is a huge sphere and there's a special force ...
106
votes
1answer
10k views

Book recommendations [closed]

Every once in a while, we get a question asking for a book or other educational reference on a particular topic at a particular level. This is a meta-question that collects all those links together. ...
103
votes
11answers
14k views

What experiment would disprove string theory?

I know that there's big controversy between two groups of physicists: those who support string theory (most of them, I think) and those who oppose it. One of the arguments of the second group is ...
100
votes
1answer
42k views

Why does NASA use gold foil on equipment and gold-coated visors?

I've read several websites about equipment covered with gold foil and astronaut helmet visors are coated with gold. However, their explanations are devoid of almost all physics content. Can someone ...
99
votes
6answers
10k views

What really allows airplanes to fly?

What aerodynamic effects actually contribute to producing the lift on an airplane? I know there's a common belief that lift comes from the Bernoulli effect, where air moving over the wings is at ...
85
votes
20answers
43k views

What software programs are used to draw physics diagrams, and what are their relative merits?

Undoubtedly, people use a variety of programs to draw diagrams for physics, but I am not familiar with many of them. I usually hand-draw things in GIMP which is powerful in some regards, but it is ...
85
votes
6answers
32k views

If you view the Earth from far enough away can you observe its past?

From my understanding of light, you are always looking into the past based on how much time it takes the light to reach you from what you are observing. For example when you see a star burn out, if ...
81
votes
6answers
6k views

Very strange shadow phenomenon

I was laying on my bed, reading a book when the sun shone through the windows on my left. I happened to look at the wall on my right and noticed this very strange effect. The shadow of my elbow, when ...
79
votes
6answers
6k views

Stupid yet tricky question: Why do we actually see the sun?

I haven't yet gotten a good answer to this: If you have two rays of light of the same wavelength and polarization (just to make it simple for now, but it easily generalizes to any range and all ...
78
votes
23answers
7k views

How can you weigh your own head in an accurate way?

I read some methods but they're not accurate. They use the Archimedes principle and they assume uniform body density which of course is far from true. Others are silly like this one: Take a knife ...
75
votes
3answers
19k views

Why does Stephen Hawking say black holes don't exist?

Recently, I read in the journal Nature that Stephen Hawking wrote a paper claiming that black holes do not exist. How is this possible? Please explain it to me because I didn't understand what he ...
75
votes
8answers
6k views

Why does a helium filled ballon move forward in a car when the car is accelerating?

I noticed that when I had a helium filled, latex ballon inside of my car, it moved forward in the cabin as I accelerated forward. The faster I accelerated forward, the faster the ballon went from the ...
72
votes
1answer
2k views

Is it necessary to consume energy to perform computation?

As far as I know, today most of the computers are made from semiconductor devices, so the energy consumed all turns into the heat emitted into space. But I wonder, is it necessary to consume energy ...
70
votes
6answers
5k views

Why do tuning forks have two prongs?

I believe the purpose of a tuning fork is to produce a single pure frequency of vibration. How do two coupled vibrating prongs isolate a single frequency? Is it possible to produce the same effect ...
70
votes
8answers
13k views

Don't heavier objects actually fall faster because they exert their own gravity?

The common understanding is that, setting air resistance aside, all objects dropped to Earth fall at the same rate. This is often demonstrated through the thought experiment of cutting a large object ...
69
votes
6answers
2k views

What are the justifying foundations of statistical mechanics without appealing to the ergodic hypothesis?

This question was listed as one of the questions in the proposal (see here), and I didn't know the answer. I don't know the ethics on blatantly stealing such a question, so if it should be deleted or ...
69
votes
13answers
7k views

Superluminal neutrinos

I was quite surprised to read this all over the news today: Elusive, nearly massive subatomic particles called neutrinos appear to travel just faster than light, a team of physicists in Europe ...
68
votes
5answers
21k views

What is the actual significance of the amplituhedron?

A news has recently became viral that physicists have discovered a geometrical object that simplifies a lot our models quantum physics. For an outsider like me, it is difficult to actually understand ...
67
votes
5answers
8k views

Why am I not burned by a strong wind?

So I was thinking... If heat I feel is just lots of particles going wild and transferring their energy to other bodies, why am I not burned by the wind? When I thought about it more I figured out ...
66
votes
5answers
5k views

What was the major discovery on gravitational waves made March 17th, 2014, in the BICEP2 experiment?

The Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics held a press conference today to announce a major discovery relating to gravitational waves. What was their announcement, and what are the implications? ...
64
votes
7answers
6k views

How can a black hole produce sound?

I was reading this article from NASA -- it's NASA -- and literally found myself perplexed. The article describes the discovery that black holes emit a "note" that has physical ramifications on the ...
64
votes
2answers
2k views

Why is a laserpointer able to “erase” a glow-in-the-dark sticker?

a while ago I tried to charge a glow-in-the-dark sticker using a simple red laser pointer. It was a large sticker, of the type used to mark emergency exits and fire extinguishers here in Germany. I ...
63
votes
16answers
111k views

How Does Mass Leave the Body When you Lose Weight?

When your body burns calories and you lose weight, obviously mass is leaving your body. In what form does it leave? In other words, what is the physical process by which the body loses weight when ...
60
votes
6answers
5k views

Why is there a scarcity of lithium?

One of the major impediments to the widespread adoption of electric cars is a shortage of lithium for the batteries. I read an article a while back that says that there is simply not enough lithium ...
59
votes
12answers
6k views

Why are radiators always placed under windows?

I don't know if anyone else has noticed this but in most buildings and most rooms, radiators are predominantly placed under a window. Now, in my eyes, that is the worst place to put them; hot air ...
59
votes
0answers
3k views

Superfields and the Inconsistency of regularization by dimensional reduction

Question: How can you show the inconsistency of regularization by dimensional reduction in the $\mathcal{N}=1$ superfield approach (without reducing to components)? Background and some references: ...
57
votes
7answers
4k views

Does juggling balls reduce the total weight of the juggler and balls?

A friend offered me a brain teaser to which the solution involves a $195$ pound man juggling two $3$-pound balls to traverse a bridge having a maximum capacity of only $200$ pounds. He explained that ...
56
votes
4answers
5k views

Gauge symmetry is not a symmetry?

I have read before in one of Seiberg's articles something like, that gauge symmetry is not a symmetry but a redundancy in our description, by introducing fake degrees of freedom to facilitate ...
56
votes
10answers
4k views

How can I stand on the ground? EM or/and Pauli?

There is this famous example about the order difference between gravitational force and EM force. All the gravitational force of Earth is just countered by the electromagnetic force between the ...
55
votes
2answers
2k views

Why do chimneys have these spiral “wings”?

While walking around I noticed something very peculiar. Many chimneys had spiral "wings", while others didn't. I came up with two possibilities: The wind circles around the chimney upwards which ...
55
votes
7answers
7k views

Why do people categorically dismiss some simple quantum models?

Deterministic models. Clarification of the question: The problem with these blogs is that people are inclined to start yelling at each other. (I admit, I got infected and it's difficult not to raise ...
55
votes
1answer
5k views

Why do we not have spin greater than 2?

It is commonly asserted that no consistent, interacting quantum field theory can be constructed with fields that have spin greater than 2 (possibly with some allusion to renormalization). I've also ...
54
votes
5answers
9k views

What does it mean for two objects to “touch”?

If you've ever been annoyingly poked by a geek, you might be familiar with the semi-nerdy obnoxious response of "I'm not actually touching you! The electrons in the atoms of my skin are just ...
53
votes
8answers
19k views

What's inside a proton?

What constitutes protons? When I see pictures, I can't understand. Protons are made of quarks, but some say that they are made of 99% empty space. Also, in this illustration from Wikipedia, what's ...
53
votes
9answers
4k views

Is Angular Momentum truly fundamental?

This may seem like a slightly trite question, but it is one that has long intrigued me. Since I formally learned classical (Newtonian) mechanics, it has often struck me that angular momentum (and ...
52
votes
6answers
2k views

The Role of Rigor

The purpose of this question is to ask about the role of mathematical rigor in physics. In order to formulate a question that can be answered, and not just discussed, I divided this large issue into ...
52
votes
2answers
7k views

Reading the Feynman lectures in 2012

The Feynman lectures are universally admired, it seems, but also a half-century old. Taking them as a source for self-study, what compensation for their age, if any, should today's reader undertake? ...
51
votes
15answers
12k views

Why does kinetic energy increase quadratically, not linearly, with speed?

As Wikipedia says: [...] the kinetic energy of a non-rotating object of mass $m$ traveling at a speed $v$ is $mv^2/2$. Why does this not increase linearly with speed? Why does it take so much ...
51
votes
4answers
5k views

Why would spacetime curvature cause gravity?

It is fine to say that for an object flying past a massive object, the spacetime is curved by the massive object, and so the object flying past follows the curved path of the geodesic, so it "appears" ...
51
votes
9answers
5k views

What makes running so much less energy-efficient than bicycling?

Most people can ride 10 km on their bike. However, running 10 km is a lot harder to do. Why? According to the law of conservation of energy, bicycling should be more intensive because you have to ...
51
votes
3answers
3k views

Why can we see the dust particles in a narrow beam of light (and not in an all lighted area)?

Let us say that I am sitting in a room with all the drapes open. Bright sunlight is coming through the window. The whole room is brilliantly lighted. I will not be able to see the dust particles ...
51
votes
3answers
2k views

What causes insects to cast large shadows from where their feet are?

I recently stumbled upon this interesting image of a wasp, floating on water: Assuming this isn't photoshopped, I have a couple of questions: Why do you see its image like that (what's the ...
51
votes
1answer
1k views

Does the 4/3 problem of classical electromagnetism remain in quantum mechanics?

In Volume II Chapter 28 of the Feymann Lectures on Physics, Feynman discusses the infamous 4/3 problem of classical electromagnetism. Suppose you have a charged particle of radius $a$ and charge $q$ ...
49
votes
10answers
9k views

Is it possible that there is a color our human eye can't see?

Is it possible that there's a color that our eye couldn't see? Like all of us are color blind to it. If there is, is it possible to detect/identify it?
48
votes
5answers
3k views

Is there a small enough planet or asteroid you can orbit by jumping?

I just had this idea of orbiting a planet just by jumping and then flying upon it on its orbit kind of like superman. So, Would it be theoretically possible or is there a chance of that small body to ...

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