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Mysterious Force at a Distance

by Ron Kurtus (revised 22 March 2016)

Forces can be divided into those that act by direct contact—such as when you push on a door to open it—and those that act at a distance, where there is no apparent physical contact between the objects.

Magnetism, and electrical charge, and gravitation are examples of forces that act at a distance. There are other such forces at the atomic level. There are modern theories that try to explain how such a force is possible.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions. Useful tool: Units Conversion

Common forces at a distance

The most common forces you experience that act at a distance are magnetism, electrical charges, and gravity.


Magnets consist of north (N) and south (S) poles, surrounded by a magnetic field. Like poles provide a repulsion force on each other, while unlike poles attract each other through a force at a distance.

Electric charges

Protons have a positive (+1) electric charge, while electrons have a (−1) electric charge. These charges are surrounded by an electric field. Protons and electrons are attracted to each other by a force at a distance. Like charges repel each other.


Matter attracts other objects of matter through a gravitational field that acts at a distance. There is speculation whether there is an anti-gravitational force where that causes matter—or antimatter—to repel each other.

Other forces at a distance

There are forces that hold the nucleus of an atom together and prevent its protons from repelling each other.

Although the distances are extremely small, forces acting at a distance hold the quarks in a proton and neutron together.


Modern theories say that certain "exchange particles" are what cause objects or particles to attract or repel at a distance. Apparently, they jump from one particle to another, somehow creating the force.

Gluons are supposed to bind Quarks together. Photons are supposed to cause electromagnetic forces. Gravitons somehow create the gravitational fields.


There are forces what act at a distance, pushing objects away or drawing them towards each other. There really isn't a good explanation of how and why these forces work.

Setting a good example is being a force at a distance

Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials


Elementary particle - Wikipedia

Gluon - Wikipedia

Physics Resources


Forces In Nature by Liz Sonneborn Rosen; Publishing Group (2004) $25.25 - Understanding gravitational, electrical and magnetic force

The Science of Forces by Steve Parker; Heinemann (2005) $29.29 - Projects with experiments with forces and machines

Glencoe Science: Motion, Forces, and Energy, by McGraw-Hill; Glencoe/McGraw-Hill (2001) $19.32 - Student edition (Hardcover)

Top-rated books on Physics of Force

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