375
votes
20answers
137k 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 ...
204
votes
4answers
37k views

Can I compute the mass of a coin based on the sound of its fall?

Other day, I bumped my bookshelf and a coin fell down. This gave me an idea. Is it possible to compute the mass of a coin, based on the sound emitted when it falls? I think that there should be a ...
196
votes
7answers
12k views

How does light bend around my finger tip?

When I close one eye and put the tip of my finger near my open eye, it seems as if the light from the background image bends around my finger slightly, warping the image near the edges of my blurry ...
180
votes
17answers
60k 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?
175
votes
11answers
36k 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 ...
157
votes
13answers
12k 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 ...
136
votes
1answer
15k 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. ...
134
votes
3answers
40k 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 ...
123
votes
11answers
17k 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 ...
123
votes
6answers
16k 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 ...
115
votes
15answers
35k views

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

Today a friend's six 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
46k 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 ...
101
votes
8answers
11k views

Could Legolas actually see that far?

The video “How Far Can Legolas See?” by MinutePhysics recently went viral. The video states that although Legolas would in principle be able to count $105$ horsemen $24\text{ km}$ away, he shouldn't ...
99
votes
3answers
8k views

How does a knife cut things at the atomic level?

As the title says. It is common sense that sharp things cut, but how do they work at the atomical level?
94
votes
6answers
38k 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 ...
92
votes
7answers
7k 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 ...
91
votes
6answers
8k 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 ...
90
votes
3answers
22k 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 ...
90
votes
7answers
7k views

Does Earth really have two high-tide bulges on opposite sides?

The bit that makes sense – tidal forces My physics teacher explained that most tidal effect is caused by the moon rotating around the Earth, and some also by the Sun. They said that in the Earth and ...
84
votes
24answers
10k 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 ...
84
votes
8answers
18k 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 ...
80
votes
8answers
11k views

Why does the Sun's (or other stars') nuclear reaction not use up all its “fuel” immediately?

The temperature and pressure everywhere inside the Sun reach the critical point to start nuclear reactions - there is no reason for it to take such a long time to complete the reaction process. Just ...
80
votes
8answers
11k 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 ...
77
votes
1answer
3k 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 ...
76
votes
6answers
6k 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 ...
76
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 ...
76
votes
5answers
23k views

What is the actual significance of the amplituhedron?

The news that physicists have discovered a geometrical object that simplifies a lot our models of quantum physics has recently became viral. For an outsider like me, it is difficult to actually ...
75
votes
16answers
133k 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 ...
75
votes
5answers
9k 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 ...
74
votes
14answers
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 ...
74
votes
2answers
4k views

Why does my wooden door disperse light into a rainbow color spectrum?

On a clear morning, light comes through this window (viewed from the inside) It then hits the door on the opposite side (so viewing from the outside the door straight on the other side) There is ...
74
votes
5answers
6k 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? ...
71
votes
16answers
17k 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 ...
71
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: ...
70
votes
12answers
9k views

Why is filling a balloon from your mouth much harder initially?

Why is it that when you first fill up a balloon, it's hard to get air through, but after inflating it a bit, it becomes much easier to further inflate the balloon?
69
votes
7answers
8k 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 ...
69
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 ...
67
votes
2answers
11k views

Why doesn't matter pass through other matter if atoms are 99.999% empty space?

The ghostly passage of one body through another is obviously out of the question if the continuum assumption were valid, but we know that at the micro, nano, pico levels (and beyond) this is not even ...
64
votes
6answers
6k 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 ...
64
votes
4answers
6k 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 ...
63
votes
5answers
6k views

Where does the extra kinetic energy come from in a gravitational slingshot?

I read in this answer in this site that the KE a free-falling ball acquires is not originated by the attracting body but that energy was actually stored in the ball when it had been lifted to the ...
63
votes
2answers
6k 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 ...
62
votes
12answers
10k 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 ...
62
votes
7answers
5k 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 ...
62
votes
5answers
13k 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 ...
62
votes
7answers
8k 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 ...
60
votes
5answers
7k views

How literally should you take “The Higgs boson gives other particles mass”?

A standard phrase in popular discussions of the Higgs boson is that "it gives particles mass". To what extent is this a reasonable, pop-science, level of description of the Higgs boson and it's ...
60
votes
10answers
6k 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 ...
60
votes
7answers
6k views

Which way does the scale tip?

I found the problem described in the attached picture on the internet. In the comment sections there were two opposing solutions. So it made me wonder which of those would be the actual solution. So ...
60
votes
10answers
5k 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 ...

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