You may feel a spark when you talk to your machine, but a living thing doesn’t require romance to make electricity. The study was published on October 24 iScience It suggests that electricity naturally produced by insects such as honeybees and locusts is an unwelcome contribution to the overall electrical charge of the atmosphere.
“Pairs in the atmosphere are easily thrown away,” says Joseph Dwyer, a physicist at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, who was not involved in the study. “Insects are particles running through the atmosphere.” Despite this, the potential role of statically induced electricity in atmospheric electricity, which affects how water droplets form, dust particles move and lightning strikes, has not been considered before.
Scientists have known about the electric charge of tiny living things, such as insects, for a long time. But the idea that an electric bug-aloo could change the charge in the air on a large scale came to the researchers by sheer chance.
“We were actually looking at how atmospheric electricity affects biology,” said Ellard Hunting, a biologist at the University of Bristol in England. But when an examination of the melbea passed through a sensor intended to collect atmospheric electricity on the field station’s field, scientists began to suspect that the flow could flow the other way as well.
Hunt and his colleagues, including biologists and physicists, measured the change in electrical energy with other honey bees on the sensor, measuring an average increase in voltage of 100 volts per meter. The denser the examination of the insect, the greater the crime.
This inspired the team to think about even more insects, like the biblical swarms of locusts that plagued ancient Egypt (and, in 2021, Las Vegas (.SN: 3/30/21)). Flying objects, from animals to airplanes, build up static electricity as they move through the air. The team measured the crime rate of individual desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) flying in a wind tunnel powered by a computer fan. Given the locust density data from other studies, the team used a computer simulation, based on data from the honeybee examination, to estimate these individual measurements of the locust’s electrical charge for the whole locust examination. Lobster clouds could produce electricity on a per-meter basis comparable to that found in storm clouds, scientists report.
The hunting event says it emphasizes the need to explore the unknown lives of aerial animals, which can sometimes reach much greater heights than honeybees or locusts. Spiders, for example, can climb kilometers above the Earth when their silk threads reach new places.SN: 7/5/18). “There’s a lot of biology in the sky,” he says, from insects and birds to microorganisms. “Everything adds up.”
Although some insect scales can be huge, Dwyer says it’s unlikely that electrically flying animals will ever encounter the density required to produce lightning like a nymph. But their presence tried to prevent ours from being vigilant to look around for strikes that could injure people or cause property damage.
“If you have something messing with our electric field measurements, that could cause a false alarm,” he says, “or it could cause you to do something that’s really big.” While the full effect that insects and other animals have on atmospheric electricity remains to be determined, Dwyer says these results are an “interesting first look” at the phenomenon.
Hunt says this initial step in an exciting new field of research shows that working with scientists from different fields can lead to the discovery of baseless sparks. “Being really interdisciplinary,” he says, “allows for these kinds of serendipitous moments.”
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