Why is Static Electricity bad in the winter?
First the definition of static electricity is the imbalance of positive and negative charges.
To answer this question you have to understand one main point: it has to do with dry air versus humid air. Now lets talk about what exactly is happening when our hair stands straight up or we get a shock from touching that door knob.
Everything is made up of atoms. Atoms contain protons, neutrons and electrons. In the middle of all these is a nucleus which consists of the protons and neutrons and rotating around the nucleus is the electrons. Each of these elements are different and have their own characteristics. Protons carry a positive charge and electrons carry a negative charge and these charges are always the same. ( Neutrons have no charge! ) So when the number or protons equals the number of electrons we are neutral. ( And that is what we want! )
In the nucleus the protons and neutrons are held close but the electrons float around. They can move from one atom to another and hence cause an atom to become positively or negatively charged, this will be called an ion. Now certain materials will hold there electrons closer and others farther away. Items such as plastic, cloth and dry air are good insulators which mean electrons do NOT move through them very well. So what happens next? Well if items touch or rub together electrons can jump from one person to another person or object to another object. The more this happens the more are transferred! This eventually can cause a large static.
What will happen next is that the positive will want to attract the negative or at least a neutral charge. It will never attract the same charge, as they say opposites attract, right! Since the question I received was about hair lets use this information to explain why hair stands up in dry air. When you take off a sweatshirt electrons rub against your hair to that sweatshirt. This will bring a positive charge to the hairs. However if each hair is positive it will want to repel the other strands around it away. That is why your hair sticks straight up!
In the winter this is more noticeable because of the dry air. When we add humidity in the mix, in the summer, the electrons move off more quickly hence not allowing a charge to be built up like in the hair.
Till next time! Meteorologist Kristen Connolly
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