Lighting Up about Electricity

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We use it every day and we don’t often realize how much we depend on it until it’s suddenly gone. An unexpected power outage always makes us realize the role electricity plays in our lives. The energy itself is fascinating, a force of nature that we have managed to harness to help us live more comfortable lives. Here are 10 surprising facts about electricity.

1. When we have a thunderstorm, the flashes of lightning come from electricity being discharged into the atmosphere. A bolt of lightning can contain up to 3 million volts. Lightning bolts are scorching hot, about 54,000°F. They also travel at the speed of light, 186,000 miles per second.

2. Eating sweets produces electricity. Well, sort of. When we eat something with sugar crystals on it, the sugar crystals can crack as we chew. This splits up the positive and negative charges. When they come back together (again, as we are chewing), it can produce triboluminescence, which is the technical term for a flash of blue light. But the effect when we are eating is so small you probably can’t see it. Or you probably don’t want to look in somebody’s mouth while he’s eating, anyway.

3. Electricity helps power your heart. The machine you may be familiar with which shows the heartbeat as a line on a screen with a spike every time the heart beats is called an electrocardiogram machine (ECG). It actually measures the electricity going through someone’s heart. The electricity helps muscle cells in the heart keep beating.

4. Electricity waste in the United States comes with a steep price tag. It is estimated that we pay 25 billion dollars a year for electricity that gets lost because of transmission and distribution that is inefficient. We also lose 150 billion dollars a year because of blackouts and power outages. Thirty percent of the 108 billion dollars’ worth of electricity used by commercial buildings each year could be cut if they switched to more energy-efficient systems.

5. Some UFOs could be electricity in disguise. High voltage transmission lines build up charges of static electricity. This static can glow quite brightly sometimes, which might explain UFO sightings near power plants.

6. Nuclear energy and coal power steam turbine plants. These power plants provide almost 70% of the electricity for the United States. But these plants are not efficient at all. For every 100 parts of heat energy from the coal or nuclear power that goes into the plant, only about 35 parts are made into electricity.

7. One tiny spark of static electricity may contain up to 3,000 volts of energy.

8. Fireflies (a.k.a. lightning bugs) are well known for their glowing behinds. It would take 25,000 fireflies to equal the light from one 60-watt light bulb.

9. Often, we power our electrical plants with coal. That coal has taken 440 million years to be made.

10. Hydropower has been used for over 2,000 years. It is one of the oldest sources of energy.

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