Physics behind the Jacobs Ladder

                                                                               Figure 13: Lightning striking a Powerline

The best place to start understanding the theory is to start with the initial arc. The two ladder conductors when they are connected to the energized transformer a potential voltage exists between them. The dielectric separating the electrodes is air. When the potential is strong enough that it overcomes the dielectric strength of the medium there is an arc that jumps between the two electrodes. This arc ionizes the air which is plasma. The plasma rises because it is air that has been superheated and warm air rises.  This propagation up the ladder conductors continues until it reaches the top and a break in the connection occurs because the gap becomes large enough that the potential cannot overcome the dielectric strength. At this point a new arc is formed at the bottom and the process repeats itself.

This experiment is useful in the effect that it lets a person see an arc discharging between two electrodes and gives them an idea as to how this does effect power transmission. On a transmission line this discharging of an arc is very dangerous and is meant to be avoided at all costs.


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