. Why does a body at rest remain at rest and a body in motion remain in motion, in the absence of unbalanced force? — AW, Karachi, Pakistan
That observation, known as Newton's first law of motion, is one of the fundamental characteristics of the universe. I could answer simply that that's the way the universe works. But a more specific answer is that the universe exhibits translational symmetry—meaning that the laws of physics are the same from your current vantage point as they would be if you shifted a meter to your left. Shifting your vantage point along some linear path—a process called translation—doesn't affect the laws of physics. The laws of physics are said to be symmetric with respect to translations and, because translations of any size are possible, this symmetry is considered to be continuous in character (as opposed to mirror reflection, which is a discrete symmetry). Whenever the laws of physics exhibit a continuous symmetry of this sort, there is a related conserved quantity. The conserved quantity that accompanies translational symmetry is known as momentum. An isolated object's momentum can't change because momentum is a conserved quantity—it can't be created or destroyed. Since momentum is related to motion, an isolated object that's at rest and has no momentum must remain at rest with no momentum. And an isolated object that's moving and has a certain momentum must remain in motion with that same momentum.
Incidentally, the laws of physics also exhibit rotational symmetry—meaning that turning your head doesn't change the laws of physics—and this symmetry leads to the existence of a conserved quantity known as angular momentum. The laws of physics also don't change with the passage of time, a temporal symmetry that leads to the existence of a conserved quantity known as energy.
. How fast can maglev trains travel? — AP
As long as the track is straight enough that the train doesn't experience severe accelerations up, down, left, or right, there is no limit to how fast it can go. In fact, the levitation process becomes more and more energy efficient as the speed increases. However, the moving train does experience a pressure drag force (a type of air resistance) that increases roughly as the square of the train's speed. The power needed to overcome this drag force increases as the cube of the train's speed, making it impractical to propel the train forward above a certain speed.
. What is the most effective way to electronically measure the level of charge of a lead acid battery? — RS
The voltage of any battery—the amount of energy it gives to each positive charge that it transfers from its negative terminal to its positive terminal—increases slightly when the battery is fully charged. That's because when the battery is fully charged and its chemicals are highly ordered, the laws of thermodynamics that encourage the development of disorder act to increase the battery's disorder through effects that also increase the battery's voltage. But as the battery discharges, these thermodynamic effects fade and the battery's voltage diminishes slightly. So the easiest way to determine the battery's charging status electronically is to look at the voltage rise across the battery when little or no current is flowing through it. The higher the voltage, the more fully charged the battery is.
. How does an electric welder work? — JE
An electric welder sends an electric current through an ionized gas, forming a pattern of current flow through the gas that is known as an arc. The ionized gases in this arc consist of electrons that are negatively charged and atoms or molecules that have lost electrons to become positively charged. The electrons flow toward the positively charged metal at one end of the arc while the positively charged ion flow toward the negatively charged metal at the other end of the arc. As these charged particles move, they collide frequently with one another and with gas atoms or molecules along their paths, and they convert some of their electric energies into thermal energy. These collisions also produce additional ions. The enormous amounts of thermal energy produced by collisions as the charged particles flow through the arc melts the metals at the ends of the arc so that these metals can be fused together.
. What is the formula for finding the power in an AC circuit?
If an appliance receiving power from an AC power source behaves as an electric resistor—meaning that the current passing through it is proportional to the voltage drop across it—then it's easy to calculate the power being consumed by this appliance. You simply multiply the voltage drop across the appliance (measured in volts) by the current passing through the appliance (measured in amperes) to obtain the power (measured in watts). The voltage drop across the appliance indicates how much energy the appliance extracts from each unit of charge pass through it and the current passing through the appliance is the measure of how many units of charge are passing through the appliance each second. Thus the product of voltage drop times current gives the energy that the appliance extracts from the current each second, which is the power extracted by the appliance. On the other hand, if the appliance behaves like an inductor or capacitor—meaning that the current passing through it isn't proportional to the voltage drop across it—it's much harder to calculate the power that the appliance is consuming.
. What kind of tape recorders are the best: cassette recorders or the ones with bigger spools? — HB, Stde, Sweden
The audio quality of analog tape recording improves as the tape moves faster past the recording and playback heads. That's because the faster tape motion spreads out the magnetized regions of tape over greater distances on the tape's surface. A cassette tape moves so slowly that oppositely magnetized regions are often bunched tightly together and they demagnetize one another. This demagnetization produces high-pitched noise in the recording. In contrast, a reel-to-reel tape that moves rapidly past the heads has magnetized regions that are widely spaced on the tape's surface and that are much less susceptible to demagnetization and noise.
. If an 8-ohm speaker was connected in parallel to an 8-ohm resistor, would the new impedance be 4 ohms?
Yes. When you connect two 8-ohm devices in parallel, so that they share a current between them, they act as a single 4-ohm device.
. I've heard the reason an antenna, such as the one on your car, is so long is because it needs to be large enough for the long radio waves to pass into it. Is this true? Why are antennas for radio stations so tall and slender? — LW, Blacksburg, VA
A vertical pole radio antenna receives a radio wave by allowing that wave to push electric charges up and down the antenna. The radio senses this moving charge and is thus aware of the passing radio wave. The ideal length of a vertical receiving antenna is a quarter of the wavelength of the radio wave it's trying to receive—in which case, charge that the radio wave's electric field pushes up and down the antenna has just enough time to reach the end of the antenna before it has to reverse directions.
The waves used for standard AM radio transmissions have very long wavelengths—typically 300 meters—so that they require vertical pole antennas that are about 75 meters long for optimal reception. An antenna of that length is also optimal for radio transmission, which is why the antennas of AM radio stations are so long and slender. However, because such long antennas are inconvenient for most AM receivers, most AM receivers use small magnetic antennas. A magnetic antenna is a device containing an iron-like material called ferrite that draws in magnetic flux lines like a sponge. A coil of wire is wound around this ferrite so that as the magnetic flux lines of a passing radio wave enter the ferrite, they induces electric currents into the coil of wire. This coil then acts as the antenna.
But the waves used in FM radio transmission have much shorter wavelengths—typically 3 meters—so that antennas of about 75 centimeters are all that's needed. The vertical pole radio antenna on your car is designed to receive these FM waves. The antennas of FM radio stations are also rather short, but they are usually mounted high up on a pole so that the whole structure looks like an AM radio antenna. However, if you look near the top of an FM radio tower, you'll see the actual FM antenna as a much smaller structure.
. Do hand carried microwave heaters exist or must the microwaves always be enclosed, as they are in a microwave oven? — AL, Umea, Sweden
My understanding is that there are microwave heating systems that are not enclosed and that are used in medical therapies to provide deep warming to injured tissues in medical patients. But apart from such devices, I've never heard of unenclosed microwave heaters. That's because such heaters would be dangerous, since a user would be exposed to the heating effects of the microwaves. To keep the microwave heating under control, microwave ovens always carefully enclose the microwaves in a metal cooking chamber from which they can't escape.
. How do microwave ovens affect people fitted with pacemakers? — W
If a microwave oven doesn't leak microwaves, then it won't affect such people at all. However, if microwaves do leak from a particular microwave oven, they will cause undesirable currents to flow in the electric leads of the pacemaker. That's because a microwave consists of electric and magnetic fields, and an electric field exerts forces on charged particles. The mobile charged particles in the pacemaker's electric wiring will experience these forces as the microwave encounters them and they will move back and forth with the microwave's fluctuating electric field. The pacemaker's wiring isn't meant to carry these unexpected current flows, and the pacemaker and/or the person attached to it may experience unpleasant effects. While such problems are very unlikely, it makes sense to warn pacemaker users whenever a microwave oven is in use.