Electric spark

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A transient form of gaseous conduction. This type of discharge is difficult to define, and no universally accepted definition exists. It can perhaps best be thought of as the transition between two more or less stable forms of gaseous conduction. For example, the transitional breakdown which occurs in the transition from a glow to an arc discharge may be thought of as a spark.

Electric sparks play an important part in many physical effects. Usually these are harmful and undesirable effects, ranging from the gradual destruction of contacts in a conventional electrical switch to the large-scale havoc resulting from lightning discharges. Sometimes, however, the spark may be very useful. Examples are its function in the ignition system of an automobile, its use as an intense short-duration illumination source in high-speed photography, and its use as a source of excitation in spectroscopy. In the second case the spark may actually perform the function of the camera shutter, because its extinction renders the camera insensitive.


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