You rush through your front door after a long day at work because it’s stormy outside. Without thinking twice you turn on the lights, grab a drink from the fridge, chuck your phone on the charger, turn on the oven to 180 degrees, switch on the big screen – which is connected to the internet – so you can Netflix and chill. Whoops, you forgot to put your clothes in the dryer, and Pete your electric eel needs feeding.
OK, so you don’t have an electric eel to feed, but one thing that is true is that for all those activities you needed something: you guessed it. Electricity.
It’s incredible just how integrated this form of energy has become in our modern-day lives. Stop for a second, have a look around you and count how many things you are currently doing that rely on it. I can count four with a second: computer, internet, phone, and lights. I also just heated up my lunch and boiled the kettle for coffee, so let’s make that six!
But what is electricity and where does it come from? In essence, it’s a form of energy that is a basic part of nature. We get our electricity supply by it converting it from a wide variety of other forms of energy, such as coal, natural gas, solar or even wind, for example. One thing’s for sure is that it’s complicated, so if you want to know more, here’s a good starting place.
To celebrate this enigmatic phenomenon, here are 7 epic things you probably didn’t know about electricity.
- At the speed of light!
You read that right! Electricity travels at the speed of light: the fastest way to travel in all the known universe. That’s a cool 300 000km per second, or in relation to your regular speedo:
1 080 000 000km per hour. In other words, you could fly around the earth seven and a half times in one second. Superman, meet your new match: Electroman!
- Electric (fish) Eels.
If you did happen to have a pet electric eel named Pete you might be disappointed to find out it is actually closer to the family of catfish than of true Eels. More pertinently, if you were going to quickly feed him as you arrive home, you might want to be careful! These guys can produce an electric shock of up to 850 volts. While you’d have to be pretty unlucky to be killed by one, getting stung by one would hurt, and give you an encounter with one of the strangest natural sources of electricity we know.
- Thomas Edison didn’t discover it.
Greek mathematician Thales of Miletus noticed in 600 BCE, that when a piece of amber rubbed with a piece of fur, it attracted light objects, such as straw or feathers. 2000 years later this concept was called static electricity.
- We need it in our brains and body.
You can add another one to your list: without electricity, our brains simply would not work. Everything we do is controlled and enabled by electrical signals running through our bodies.
- A building in Victoria was evacuated.
In 2005, in the city of Warrnambool, a man wearing synthetic clothing built up so much static electricity that he burnt the carpet inside a building. The local fire authorities evacuated the building and the surrounding streets for fear of starting an electrical storm. He produced around 30,000 volts of charge. Too bad he couldn’t deposit it off a power station somewhere.
Did you know that lightning occurs because the build-up of electricity in the atmosphere is so intense it has discharge itself somewhere? It’s a naturally occurring electrostatic discharge during which two electrically charged regions in the atmosphere or ground temporarily equalize themselves. Or in other words, Thor’s in town, and he came in hot at 30,000 degrees celsius.
- We can produce it ourselves.
If you danced for long enough – say, a couple of years or so – and you knew a scientist who was willing to develop the technology to capture the energy of your fantastic dance moves and transform it into electricity (theoretically possible), you could use that electricity to wash the very clothes that you danced in.
From the weird to the mind-blowing. Electricity is certainly a mysterious phenomenon. Thank goodness for electricians!