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31, p. 60), whose results are represented in fig. 20. We see from these curves that for very short arcs the potential difference increases continuously with the pressure, but for longer ones there is a critical pressure at which the potential difference is a minimum, and that critical pressure seems to increase with the length of arc.

EB1911 Conduction, Electric - Figs. 20 & 21.jpg
Fig. 20. Fig. 21.

The nature of the gas also affects the potential difference. The magnitude of this effect may be gathered from the following values given by Arons (Ann. der Phys. 1, p. 700) for the potential difference required to produce an arc 1.5 mm. long, carrying a current of 4.5 amperes, between terminals of different metals in air and pure nitrogen.

Terminal. Air. Nitrogen. Terminal. Air. Nitrogen.
Ag … 21 ? Pt … 36 30
Zn … 23 21 Al … 39 27
Cd … 25 21 Pb … . . 18
Cu … 27 30 Mg … . . 22
Fe … 29 20

Thus, with the discharge for an arc of given length and current, the nature of the terminals is the most important factor in determining the potential difference. The effects produced by the pressure and nature of the surrounding gas, although quite appreciable, are not of so much importance, while in the spark discharge the nature of the terminals is of no importance, everything depending upon the nature and pressure of the gas.

The potential gradient in the arc is very far from being uniform. With carbon terminals Luggin (Wien. Ber. 98, p. 1192) found that, with a current of 15 amperes, there was a fall of potential of 33.7 close to the anode, and one 8.7 close to the cathode, so that the curve representing the distribution of potential between the terminals would be somewhat like that shown in fig. 21. We have seen that a somewhat analogous distribution of potential holds in the case of conduction through flames, though in that case the greatest drop of potential is in general at the cathode and not at the anode. The difference between the changes of potential at the anode and cathode is not so large with Fe and Cu terminals as with carbon ones; with mercury terminals, Arons (Wied. Ann. 58, p. 73) found the anode fall to be 7.4 volts, the cathode fall 5.4 volts.

The case of the arc when the cathode is a pool of mercury and the anode a metal wire placed in a vessel from which the air has been exhausted is one which has attracted much attention, and important investigations on this point have been made by Hewitt (Electrician, 52, p. 447), Wills (Electrician, 54, p. 26), Stark, Retschinsky and Schnaposnikoff (Ann. der Phys. 18, p. 213) and Pollak (Ann. der Phys. 19, p. 217). In this arrangement the mercury is vaporized by the heat, and the discharge which passes through the mercury vapour gives an exceedingly bright light, which has been largely used for lighting factories, &c. The arrangement can also be used as a rectifier, for a current will only pass through it when the mercury pool is the cathode. Thus if such a lamp is connected with an alternating current circuit, it lets through the current in one direction and stops that in the other, thus furnishing a current which is always in one direction.

Theory of the Arc Discharge.—An incandescent body such as a piece of carbon even when at a temperature far below that of the terminals in an arc, emits corpuscles at a rate corresponding to a current of the order of 1 ampere per square centimetre of incandescent surface, and as the rate of increase of emission with the temperature is very rapid, it is probably at the rate of many amperes per square centimetre at the temperature of the negative carbon in the arc. If then a piece of carbon were maintained at this temperature by some external means, and used as a cathode, a current could be sent from it to another electrode whether the second electrode were cold or hot. If, however, these negatively electrified corpuscles did not produce other ions either by collision with the gas through which they move or with the anode, the spaces between cathode and anode would have a negative charge, which would tend to stop the corpuscles leaving the cathode and would require a large potential difference between anode and cathode to produce any considerable current. If, however, there is ionization either in the gas or at the anode, the positive ions will diffuse into the region of the discharge until they are sensibly equal in number to the negative ions. When this is the case the back electromotive force is destroyed and the same potential difference will carry a much larger current. The arc discharge may be regarded as analogous to the discharge between incandescent terminals, the only difference being that in the arc the terminals are maintained in the state of incandescence by the current and not by external means. On this view the cathode is bombarded by positive ions which heat it to such a temperature that negative corpuscles sufficient to carry the current are emitted by it. These corpuscles bombard the anode and keep it incandescent. They ionize also, either directly by collision or indirectly by heating the anode, the gas and vapour of the metal of which the anode is made, and produce in this way the supply of positive ions which keep the cathode hot.

Discharge from a Point.—A very interesting case of electric discharge is that between a sharply pointed electrode, such as a needle, and a metal surface of considerable area. At atmospheric pressures the luminosity is confined to the immediate neighbourhood of the point. If the sign of the potential of the point does not change, the discharge is carried by ions of one sign—that of the charge on the pointed electrode. The velocity of these ions under a given potential gradient has been measured by Chattock (Phil. Mag. 32, p. 285), and found to agree with that of the ions produced by Röntgen or uranium radiation, while Townsend (Phil. Trans. 195, p. 259) has shown that the charge on these ions is the same as that on the ions streaming from the point. If the pointed electrode be placed at right angles to a metal plane serving as the other electrode, the discharge takes place when, for a given distance of the point from the plane, the potential difference between the electrodes exceeds a definite value depending upon the pressure and nature of the gas through which the discharge passes; its value also depends upon whether, beginning with a small potential difference, we gradually increase it until discharge commences, or, beginning with a large potential difference, we decrease it until the discharge stops. The value found by the latter method is less than that by the former. According to Chattock’s measurements the potential difference V for discharge between the point and the plate is given by the linear relation V = a + bl, where l is the distance of the point from the plate and a and b are constants. From v. Obermayer’s (Wien. Ber. 100, 2, p. 127) experiments, in which the distance l was greater than in Chattock’s, it would seem that the potential for larger distances does not increase quite so rapidly with l as is indicated by Chattock’s relation. The potential required to produce this discharge is much less than that required to produce a spark of length l between parallel plates; thus from Chattock’s experiments to produce the point discharge when l = .5 cm. in air at atmospheric pressure requires a potential difference of about 3800 volts when the pointed electrode is positive, while to produce a spark at the same distance between plane electrodes would require a potential difference of about 15,000 volts. Chattock showed that with the same pointed electrode the value of the electric intensity at the point was the same whatever the distance of the point from the plane. The value of the electric intensity depended upon the sharpness of the point. When the end of the pointed electrode is a hemisphere of radius a, Chattock showed that for the same gas at the same pressure the electric intensity f when discharge takes place is roughly proportioned to a−0.8. The value of the electric intensity at the pointed electrode is much greater than its value at a plane electrode for long sparks; but we must remember that at a distance from a pointed electrode equal to a small multiple of the radius of curvature of its extremity the electric intensity falls very far