All Questions

244
votes
6answers
32k views

Did the Big Bang happen at a point?

TV documentaries invariably show the Big Bang as an exploding ball of fire expanding outwards. Did the Big Bang really explode outwards from a point like this? If not, what did happen?
314
votes
1answer
66k 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. ...
142
votes
11answers
21k views

Why does space expansion not expand matter?

I have looked at other questions on this site (e.g. "why does space expansion affect matter") but can't find the answer I am looking for. So here is my question: One often hears talk of space ...
61
votes
7answers
33k views

What is the relation between electromagnetic wave and photon?

At the end of this nice video (https://youtu.be/XiHVe8U5PhU?t=10m27s), she says that electromagnetic wave is a chain reaction of electric and magnetic fields creating each other so the chain of wave ...
125
votes
11answers
48k views

Why does holding something up cost energy while no work is being done?

I read the definition of work as $$W ~=~ \vec{F} \cdot \vec{d}$$ $$\text{ Work = (Force) $\cdot$ (Distance)}.$$ If a book is there on the table, no work is done as no distance is covered. If I ...
141
votes
10answers
61k views

Why don't electrons crash into the nuclei they “orbit”?

I'm having trouble understanding the simple "planetary" model of the atom that I'm being taught in my basic chemistry course. In particular, I can't see how a negatively charged electron can stay ...
107
votes
16answers
97k views

With Newton's third law, why are things capable of moving?

I've got a rather humiliating question considering newton's third law "If an object A exterts a force on object B, then object B exerts an equal but opposite force on object A" -> $F_1=-F_2$ ...
100
votes
17answers
12k views

Is it possible for information to be transmitted faster than light by using a rigid pole?

Is it possible for information (like 1 and 0s) to be transmitted faster than light? For instance, take a rigid pole of several AU in length. Now say you have a person on each end, and one of them ...
60
votes
6answers
14k views

Is the total energy of the universe zero?

In popular science books and articles, I keep running into the claim that the total energy of the Universe is zero, "because the positive energy of matter is cancelled out by the negative energy of ...
66
votes
5answers
7k views

What is time, does it flow, and if so what defines its direction?

This is an attempt to gather together the various questions about time that have been asked on this site and provide a single set of hopefully authoritative answers. Specifically we attempt to address ...
121
votes
10answers
16k views

How fast does gravity propagate?

A thought experiment: Imagine the Sun is suddenly removed. We wouldn't notice a difference for 8 minutes, because that's how long light takes to get from the Sun's surface to Earth. However, what ...
89
votes
13answers
20k 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 far-away-...
58
votes
7answers
9k 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 ...
146
votes
8answers
208k views

If photons have no mass, how can they have momentum?

As an explanation of why a large gravitational field (such as a black hole) can bend light, I have heard that light has momentum. This is given as a solution to the problem of only massive objects ...
76
votes
8answers
23k views

What is $\Delta t$ in the time-energy uncertainty principle?

In non-relativistic QM, the $\Delta E$ in the time-energy uncertainty principle is the limiting standard deviation of the set of energy measurements of $n$ identically prepared systems as $n$ goes to ...
75
votes
6answers
8k views

Calculus of variations — how does it make sense to vary the position and the velocity independently?

How does it make sense to vary the position and the velocity independently? Velocity is the derivative of position, so how can you treat them as independent variables?
113
votes
2answers
17k views

Does the Planck scale imply that spacetime is discrete?

On a quantum scale the smallest unit is the Planck scale, which is a discrete measure. There several question that come to mind: Does that mean that particles can only live in a discrete grid-like ...
45
votes
7answers
8k views

Why is there a controversy on whether mass increases with speed?

Some people say that mass increases with speed, some people say that the mass of an object is independent of its speed. I understand how some (though not many) things in physics are a matter of ...
73
votes
5answers
14k 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 ...
54
votes
4answers
10k views

If a mass moves close to the speed of light, does it turn into a black hole?

I'm a big fan of the podcast Astronomy Cast and a while back I was listening to a Q&A episode they did. A listener sent in a question that I found fascinating and have been wondering about ever ...
62
votes
8answers
9k views

What really causes light/photons to appear slower in media?

I know that if we solve the Maxwell equation, we will end up with the phase velocity of light being related to the permeability and the permittivity of the material. But this is not what I'm ...
43
votes
8answers
136k views

Would time freeze if you could travel at the speed of light?

I read with interest about Einstein's Theory of Relativity and his proposition about the speed of light being the universal speed limit. So, if I were to travel in a spacecraft at (practically) the ...
216
votes
11answers
49k 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 ...
43
votes
4answers
8k views

Can space expand with unlimited speed?

According to this article on the European Space Agency web site just after the Big Bang and before inflation the currently observable universe was the size of a coin. One millionth of a second later ...
52
votes
8answers
8k views

Why is the observable universe so big?

The observable universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old. But yet it is 80 billion light years across. Isn't this a contradiction?
368
votes
16answers
36k 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 ...
101
votes
6answers
19k views

A list of inconveniences between quantum mechanics and (general) relativity?

It is well known that quantum mechanics and (general) relativity do not fit well. I am wondering whether it is possible to make a list of contradictions or problems between them? E.g. relativity ...
52
votes
10answers
11k views

Is the wave-particle duality a real duality?

I often hear about the wave-particle duality, and how particles exhibit properties of both particles and waves. However, I wonder, is this actually a duality? At the most fundamental level, we 'know' ...
58
votes
7answers
8k views

Why does everything spin?

The origin of spin is some what a puzzle to me, everything spin from galaxies to planets to weather to electrons. Where has all the angular momentum come from? Why is it so natural? I was also ...
227
votes
12answers
65k 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 ...
64
votes
7answers
8k views

What is time dilation really?

Please will someone explain what time dilation really is and how it occurs. There are lots of questions and answers going into how to calculate time dilation, but none that give an intuitive feel for ...
86
votes
6answers
42k views

Is the universe fundamentally deterministic?

I'm not sure if this is the right place to ask this question. I realise that this maybe a borderline philosophical question at this point in time, therefore feel free to close this question if you ...
43
votes
4answers
116k views

How does gravity work underground?

Would the effect of gravity on me change if I were to dig a very deep hole and stand in it? If so, how would it change? Am I more likely to be pulled downwards, or pulled towards the edges of the hole?...
47
votes
12answers
36k views

Why and how is the speed of light in vacuum constant, i.e., independent of reference frame?

I was told that the Galilean relative velocity rule does not apply to the speed of light. No matter how fast two objects are moving, the speed of light will remain same for both of them. How and why ...
28
votes
5answers
6k views

Does a photon in vacuum have a rest frame?

Quite a few of the questions given on this site mention a photon in vacuum having a rest frame such as it having a zero mass in its rest frame. I find this contradictory since photons must travel at ...
81
votes
7answers
15k views

Why are there only derivatives to the first order in the Lagrangian?

Why is the Lagrangian a function of the position and velocity (possibly also of time) and why are dependences on higher order derivatives (acceleration, jerk,...) excluded? Is there a good reason for ...
49
votes
4answers
20k views

What is the mechanism behind the slowdown of light/photons in a transparent medium?

So light travels slower in glass (for example) than in a vacuum. What causes light to slow down? Or: How does it slow down? If light passes through the medium, is it not essentially traveling in the "...
31
votes
4answers
9k views

Do virtual particles actually physically exist?

I have heard virtual particles pop in and out of existence all the time, most notable being the pairs that pop out beside black holes and while one gets pulled away. But wouldn't this actually violate ...
45
votes
2answers
6k views

How do I construct the $SU(2)$ representation of the Lorentz Group using $SU(2)\times SU(2)\sim SO(3,1)$ ?

This question is based on problem II.3.1 in Anthony Zee's book Quantum Field Theory in a Nutshell Show, by explicit calculation, that $(1/2,1/2)$ is the Lorentz Vector. I see that the ...
68
votes
10answers
7k 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 me ...
37
votes
5answers
29k views

Would you be weightless at the center of the Earth?

If you could travel to the center of the Earth (or any planet), would you be weightless there?
47
votes
7answers
11k views

How is the classical twin paradox resolved?

I read a lot about the classical twin paradox recently. What confuses me is that some authors claim that it can be resolved within SRT, others say that you need GRT. Now, what is true (and why)?
61
votes
8answers
156k views

Why doesn't the Moon fall onto the Earth?

Why doesn't the Moon fall onto the Earth? For that matter, why doesn't anything rotating a larger body ever fall onto the larger body?
61
votes
7answers
7k views

Why is the Earth so fat?

I made a naive calculation of the height of Earth's equatorial bulge and found that it should be about 10km. The true height is about 20km. My question is: why is there this discrepancy? The ...
114
votes
13answers
27k views

Is time continuous or discrete?

I was coding a physics simulation, and noticed that I was using discrete time. That is, there was an update mechanism advancing the simulation for a fixed amount of time repeatedly, emulating a ...
22
votes
6answers
5k views

(Almost) double light speed

Let's say we have $2$ particles facing each other and each traveling (almost) at speed of light. Let's say I'm sitting on #$1$ particle so in my point of view #$2$ particle's speed is (almost) $c+c=...
35
votes
5answers
4k views

Why is a black hole black?

In general relativity (ignoring Hawking radiation), why is a black hole black? Why nothing, not even light, can escape from inside a black hole? To make the question simpler, say, why is a ...
200
votes
17answers
53k 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 $\frac{1}{2}mv^2$. Why does this not increase linearly with speed? Why does it take so ...
78
votes
16answers
137k 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 ...
38
votes
8answers
6k views

What are the various physical mechanisms for energy transfer to the photon during blackbody emission?

By conservation of energy, the solid is left in a lower energy state following emission of a photon. Clearly absorption and emission balance at thermal equilibrium, however, thermodynamic equilibrium ...

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