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Revision as of 01:59, 30 October 2013

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!
We have an explanation for all 1 xkcd comics, and only 0 (0%) are incomplete. Help us finish them!

Latest comic

Go to this comic explanation

Physics Confession
"You know lightning, right? When electric charge builds up in a cloud and then discharges in a giant spark? Ask me why that happens." "Why does tha--" "No clue. We think it's related to the hair thing."
Title text: "You know lightning, right? When electric charge builds up in a cloud and then discharges in a giant spark? Ask me why that happens." "Why does tha--" "No clue. We think it's related to the hair thing."

Explanation

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: This is my first contribution it should be looked over by someone before the tag is removed.

A Theory of Everything is a goal of modern physics which would describe the properties of all fundamental particles and all the interactions between them. The current approach to a theory of everything is to describe how at high energies different interactions, such as electromagnetic forces and the strong and weak nuclear interactions merge. It would be possible, in principle to demonstrate how the rest of known physics can be derived from that quantum behavior. This approach, however, leaves many everyday phenomena which are not understood by modern physics, and many arguments against a theory of everything suggest that it won't ever be able to actually precisely describe everything. This comic lists several of those phenomena:

The fine detail of how ice skates work is unknown. It is known that there is a film of water between the skate and the ice that lubricates sliding, but scientists dispute how the film gets there. The commonly held belief is that it is caused by the pressure of the narrow skate; another belief is that the ice is melted by the friction of movement; but both fail to fully explain why skating continues to be possible at temperatures that are significantly below 0 Celsius. A better explanation is simply that, near the melting point of a solid, there will be a thin layer of liquid on the surface due to the dynamic equilibrium between the two phases, hence why ice is slippery. This happens regardless of the presence of skates. A more complete explanation is given in the linked article: Why is ice slippery?.

Physicists lack a clear understanding of the interactions involved in the flow of granular materials, such as sand. It is known that the behavior diverges greatly from that of a liquid, but it is unknown exactly how the flow works. PhysicsCentral:Granular Materials

Modern physics also doesn't understand what makes electrons move from one material to another when two materials are rubbed against each other (the triboelectric effect), and why the transfer takes more electrons in one direction than in the other. However this happens, and it's the cause of static electricity, which can be seen when one rubs a latex rubber balloon against hair.

The title text mentions another common phenomenon that is poorly understood: the separation of charges in a cumulonimbus cloud. It is thought that interactions between ice and water transfer electrons, and then the different motion of ice (as hail) and water droplets in the cloud separates the charge. NOAA How lightning is created.

Transcript

[Megan is facing Ponytail and Cueball.]
Megan: I'll be honest: We physicists talk a big game about the theory of everything, but the truth is, we don't really understand why ice skates work, how sand flows, or where the static charge comes from when you rub your hair with a balloon.


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Lots of people contribute to make this wiki a success. Many of the recent contributors, listed above, have just joined. You can do it too! Create your account here.

You can read a brief introduction about this wiki at explain xkcd. Feel free to sign up for an account and contribute to the wiki! We need explanations for comics, characters, themes, memes and everything in between. If it is referenced in an xkcd web comic, it should be here.

  • List of all comics contains a table of most recent xkcd comics and links to the rest, and the corresponding explanations. There are incomplete explanations listed here. Feel free to help out by expanding them!
  • If you see that a new comic hasn't been explained yet, you can create it: Here's how.
  • We sell advertising space to pay for our server costs. To learn more, go here.

Rules

Don't be a jerk. There are a lot of comics that don't have set in stone explanations; feel free to put multiple interpretations in the wiki page for each comic.

If you want to talk about a specific comic, use its discussion page.

Please only submit material directly related to —and helping everyone better understand— xkcd... and of course only submit material that can legally be posted (and freely edited). Off-topic or other inappropriate content is subject to removal or modification at admin discretion, and users who repeatedly post such content will be blocked.

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