Black Bodies and Quantum Cats: Tales of Pure Genius and Mad by JENNIFER OUELLETTE

By JENNIFER OUELLETTE

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The rod is connected to a piece of copper or aluminum wire, which is in turn connected to a conductive grid buried in the ground nearby. Lightning rods don’t actually attract lightning; rather, they provide a low-resistance path to the ground. Franklin understood that lightning can strike and then seek out a path of least resistance by jumping around to nearby objects that provide a better path to the ground. A lightning rod provides a safe option for the lightning strike to choose.

Refracting telescopes like the ones built by Galileo were sufficient to see details in planets and nearby stars, but astronomers quickly realized that there were limits to the amount of light a refracting telescope could collect, and hence how far into space it could see. Around 1680, Isaac Newton developed the first reflecting telescope, which used mirrors instead of lenses to reflect rather than bend light, producing much brighter images. For that reason, reflecting telescopes soon replaced refracting telescopes among astronomers, although both types are still available today.

Drag your feet on the carpet and then touch a conducting surface, like a metal doorknob. The resulting shock is static electricity. The shuffling causes our bodies to pick up extra negatively charged electrons. Touching something with a positive charge, like metal, causes the electrons to “jump”across the small gap from our fingers to the object. Lightning is a particularly spectacular form of static electricity: its high voltage and high intensity make a lightning strike lethal to human beings, rather than merely annoying.

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