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I read in your site that plasma balls are safe to touch since the electricity given out by them is very small. However, I wonder if there are any other harmful effects of plasma balls. For instance, do they emit harmful amounts of X-rays?
- Rohan (age 39)
No, I would not expect a plasma ball to emit X-rays in any detectable
amount (if at all). While the voltages inside the plasma ball are
fairly high, there is also a good deal of gas inside the ball that the
electrons collide with. The electrons speed up in the electric field
until they get enough energy to knock an electron in a gas atom (or
molecule) into another state, or out of the atom altogether. If an
electron has too little energy to do this, then the collisions the
electron undergoes with the gas atoms are "elastic" -- the gas atoms
are unable to absorb the energy from the flying electron. If the
electron has more energy than this, the probability that it will suffer
an "inelastic" collison with a gas atom goes way up, and you get the
characteristic glowing of the gas. If an electron has more energy than
this, it quickly loses this energy to collisions with the gas
This process limits the energy of emitted radiation to that of the
lowest available transition energy of the gas molecules in the plasma
ball. If you took all the gas away, then the electrons can freely
accelerate in the electric field and then radiate X-rays when they
strike something. But if there's a lot of gas around, they bump into
the gas atoms and lose their energy before they get going that fast.
It's certainly no different from a neon sign or a fluorescent
light fixture -- it's just shaped differently so that it looks cool.
(republished on 08/02/06)
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