High voltage discharge

High voltage discharge

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Credit: DAVID PARKER/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: A spark gap consists of an arrangement of two conducting electrodes separated by a gap usually filled with a gas such as air, designed to allow an electric spark to pass between the conductors. When the voltage difference between the conductors exceeds the breakdown voltage of the gas within the gap, a spark forms, ionizing the gas and drastically reducing its electrical resistance. An electric current then flows until the path of ionized gas is broken or the current reduces below a minimum value called the "holding current". Usually, the action of ionizing the gas is violent and disruptive, often leading to sound (ranging from a snap for a spark plug to thunder for a lightning discharge), light and heat. The image was produced by placing a glass sheet between the electrodes (digitally removed for clarity) carrying about 300, 000 volts. Spark gaps were studied by Michael Faraday.

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