Putting webcomic science to the test...

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Tev
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Putting webcomic science to the test...

Postby Tev » Mon Apr 27, 2009 9:47 pm UTC

Yes, this is another mad scientist attempting to make himself a lightning crystal as seen in the xkcd comic The Glass Necklace. As it is now the time of year that lightning storms begin popping up with increasing frequency I've decided to go ahead with project "make something cool for my girlfriend." I've done a little research into the possibilities of pulling this off and have looked over the one other thread where doing something like this was discussed. Sadly, it looks like that project never came to a resolution.

Here is what I propose to do:

For this project I will actually be using a weather balloon to get the container/sand payload aloft. I have found a company that can get me a pretty durable balloon that can get upwards of 15-20 lbs of material up in the air. I have not decided if I'm filling the balloon with helium or hydrogen yet. On one hand helium is easier to come by but hydrogen is lighter, will get me better lift, and is also explosive enough to actually look cool when hit by lightning. For the moment I've decided to go with a cylinder container made of steel. It's 6in long/2in wide and will have two steel screw caps on the ends. Connecting the two caps will be some copper filament wire (most likely stripped CAT-5 cable) that will be soldered to both ends. This should help get a good charge to pass through the sand as opposed to around it. For sand I have chosen to use either fine white decorating sand or sandblasting sand to help get more surface area and a better silicate/quartz to dirt ratio. This of course will all be tethered to a metal spike the middle of a vacant field until lightning strikes.

Now, the issues that I need some clarification on are these:

-The container. In the other thread there was discussion of using glass and/or ceramics for the cylinder. I've very worried that such materials would be flat out vaporized by a bolt of lightning. Maybe I just don't understand lightning so well but I figure a thicker metal container has a better chance of falling to the ground intact after being hit.

-The sand. I'm hoping a small copper wire down the core of the container will get enough lightning to pass through the center to get the effect I'm shooting for but my roommate also brought up the idea of wetting the sand to help get the charge to pass through the center. I'm not sure if this will help or hinder the plan.

-Any major/glaring issues any of you see with this plan. This is my first try at something like this and most of the science is way outside my fields of study. I've got an electrician helping me out but frankly there's quite a big difference between knowing how electricity works and harnessing the power of lightning.

Pictures and video will be made available as the project continues.

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eternauta3k
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Re: Putting webcomic science to the test...

Postby eternauta3k » Mon Apr 27, 2009 9:55 pm UTC

This should be merged with the previous thread. If you read it, you'll see we suggested different materials to make sure the lightning goes through the sand rather than the container. By ceramics I mean the stuff insulators for high-voltage lines are made of (and, as Kaylee said, many parts in the Serenity are made of ceramics). Also, if your sand is wet, expect to get steam expanding violently, which your container will have to withstand (or have holes to relieve the pressure)
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Tev
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Re: Putting webcomic science to the test...

Postby Tev » Mon Apr 27, 2009 10:30 pm UTC

eternauta3k wrote:This should be merged with the previous thread. If you read it, you'll see we suggested different materials to make sure the lightning goes through the sand rather than the container. By ceramics I mean the stuff insulators for high-voltage lines are made of (and, as Kaylee said, many parts in the Serenity are made of ceramics). Also, if your sand is wet, expect to get steam expanding violently, which your container will have to withstand (or have holes to relieve the pressure)
Can you get high voltage insulation ceramics custom made? I was actually against the wet sand plan for the reasons that you stated. My roommate feels that the container will be vaporized regardless which is why I chose a rather solid steel tube. I'd like the container to be able to survive the lightning strike as well as the resulting several hundred foot fall.

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Charlie!
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Re: Putting webcomic science to the test...

Postby Charlie! » Tue Apr 28, 2009 2:55 am UTC

Tev wrote:
eternauta3k wrote:This should be merged with the previous thread. If you read it, you'll see we suggested different materials to make sure the lightning goes through the sand rather than the container. By ceramics I mean the stuff insulators for high-voltage lines are made of (and, as Kaylee said, many parts in the Serenity are made of ceramics). Also, if your sand is wet, expect to get steam expanding violently, which your container will have to withstand (or have holes to relieve the pressure)
Can you get high voltage insulation ceramics custom made? I was actually against the wet sand plan for the reasons that you stated. My roommate feels that the container will be vaporized regardless which is why I chose a rather solid steel tube. I'd like the container to be able to survive the lightning strike as well as the resulting several hundred foot fall.

Regular ol' glass will be less conductive than a sand/air mixture. Pyrex is around 10^11 ohm*m, plain old glass is even higher I think. And I think we also talked about using pointy things to direct the current through the sand in the other thread. However, I agree about the container being toast. There will be thunder INSIDE it.
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Mr. Freeman
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Re: Putting webcomic science to the test...

Postby Mr. Freeman » Sat May 02, 2009 12:28 am UTC

How about a steel pipe with holes in it (lots of holes) to prevent explosion. Then inside that put a plastic bag and inside that, the sand. I'm thinking that the plastic bag won't have sufficient resistance to withstand a freaking lighting strike, the steel container should contain the glass after the plastic bag has asploded.

Of course, there's the possibility that any glass made will just explode with everything else. Perhaps it will just vaporize the sand and there will be no glass to speak of in the container.

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Charlie!
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Re: Putting webcomic science to the test...

Postby Charlie! » Sat May 02, 2009 6:01 pm UTC

Mr. Freeman wrote:How about a steel pipe with holes in it (lots of holes) to prevent explosion. Then inside that put a plastic bag and inside that, the sand. I'm thinking that the plastic bag won't have sufficient resistance to withstand a freaking lighting strike, the steel container should contain the glass after the plastic bag has asploded.

Of course, there's the possibility that any glass made will just explode with everything else. Perhaps it will just vaporize the sand and there will be no glass to speak of in the container.

The problem with steel pipe is that the lightning will go through the steel pipe. Also, thermal expansion will probably destroy the pipe anyhow :(
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Tass
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Re: Putting webcomic science to the test...

Postby Tass » Tue May 05, 2009 12:08 pm UTC

How about placing the sand containter near the ground, say on top of the anchor pole a meter of the ground or so? Then it would matter that it exploded because you could still find any glass produced.

Edit: Now I got it.

glass.JPG
Why make it more complicated?
glass.JPG (12.77 KiB) Viewed 1592 times


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