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How fast is electricity?

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2011-02-15 06:18:32

It is not the electrons that are flowing through an electric

wire, it is a charge (energy) transferred from electron to electron

within the wires. But even this motion is much slower than you

think, and depends on different factors, such as transfer medium.

Even lightning traveling through ionized air can only travel, at

most, half the speed of light. (see the related link)

There are several different ways to define the speed of

electricity. In an AC circuit the electrons do not move forward at

all, they just vibrate back and forth in place.

At the same time, the amount of time that it takes between when

you flip a switch and a light turns on is actually much faster than

the speed of light, so that it actually takes longer for the light

of the bulb to reach your eyes than it takes for the light to turn

on after flipping the switch.

The easiest way to imagine this is to picture a mile-long pipe

that is just larger than a marble and is filled from beginning to

end with marbles. When you put another marble in one side, a marble

comes out the other side nearly (but not quite) instantly. This has

nothing to do with the "speed of marbles," just like electrical

current has nothing to do with the speed of light.

Other things such as radio waves, magnetic fields, and so on are

a completely different story.

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