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The Power of Zeus

Mercury Spring 2007 Table of Contents


by James C. White II

I was six years old when I discovered I had the power of Zeus. By merely dragging my feet across a wool rug in my house, I could unleash lightning bolts -- well, some tiny sparks, at least -- on my mortal parents.

It did not take me long to find out that lightning, those real Zeusian bolts of electricity from the sky, came about in essentially the same way.

As you walk across a rug, you strip electrons -- tiny, discrete units of negative electrical charge -- from it, and that extra charge on you makes you slightly negatively charged. When your hand nears a doorknob (or someone’s earlobe), Nature says, "Away extra charge!" and a spark jumps between finger and knob. Do you not believe that you, too, can make mini-lightning? Drag your

When Nature works on larger scales like those of big, fluffy clouds in the atmospheres of Earth or mighty Jupiter, the sparks are even bigger, and the energy is enormous. In a typical terrestrial lightning bolt, striking down from a cloud or springing up from the ground to a cloud, the energy is greater for a fraction of a second than that produced by all the electrical power generating plants in the United States. That more than one hundred bolts every second are striking Earth somewhere makes one realize (again) how powerful Nature can be.

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