Science in movies and video-games

The real reason why Ash Ketchum should be dead of Pikachu's Thunderbold

01/07/2018 ⋅ No comments

Par Timo van Neerden

Ash Ketchum has been electrified countless times in the Pokemon anime. Why isn’t he dead yet ?

haters gonna hate pikachu
This question has already been asked on this thread, where people get to conclude that Ash is still alive thanks to the low amperage of Pikachu's attacks, regardless of its 100'000 volts.

This is not consistent, neither with reality nor the series.

100'000 volts ? An electric arc of 3 cm only !

The first thing to take into account, is air's dielectric rigidity. Quoting Wikipedia:

the maximum electric field that a pure material can withstand under ideal conditions without breaking down (i.e., without experiencing failure of its insulating properties).

To be clear, it’s the maximum voltage a material can withstand until it’s insulation fails and an electric arc is released. For dry air, the dielectric rigidity is about 36'000 volts per centimeter. This means that if you want to create a 1 cm electric arc, you have to put 36'000 volts into it.

It is said in the pokedex that Raichu can produce sparks of 100'000 volts. In reality, thanks to what I said earlier, this is only enough for a mere 3 cm wide spark.

If we want our Pokemon to create a several meter long arc, it must produce at least tens of millions of volts.

But then again: this wound not kill anyone unless we also have a decent amperage. When one experiences a static-shock in the summer on one's car, the voltage is about 10'000 V, but this is far from deadly: the spark lacks the amps to be harmful. Same goes for tasers: some claim to produce up to 1 million volts, but they are (in theory) not deadly.

Amperage of an electric arc

le pikachu de Sacha
So… this answers our question: Pikachu doesn’t kill anyone because of it’s low intensity?

This is wrong too.

For an electric arc to be created between to points, it has to ionize air to make it an electrical conductor. As a side effect, air is heavily heated and emits radiation which makes is visible. It’s the intensity of a spark that makes gives it it’s color, it’s length and it’s duration.

For a long lasting spark, the intensity has to be for above the harmless limit for humans.

During an static-shock, the arc is small, merely visible and very transitory: the intensity is very very low (in the magnitude of micro-amps) : the amount of electrons is too low and the arc disappears once the have been transfered.

Pikachu's thunderbolt, on the other hand, are long lasting, long length sparks (like a real lightning strike, in fact).
In a lightning strike, a very high intensity flows and heats the air up to 30'000 °C, which is about 5 times the suns surface temperature. This makes it incandescent and luminous, that's why we can see it. All this, thanks if tens of thousands of amps, which is far from enough to kill anyone.

This is why, Pikachu's long lasting, very long electric arc can’t have too low an amperage, and that’s why Ash Ketchum has no reason to be alive (nor our beloved Team Rocket).

In the fact, some people have survived lightning strikes. This is because they were always wet, or wore wet clothes: the current flew through the clothes and the rain instead of penetrating through the skin and electrocuting or burning the insides of the body.
This also formed a sort of Faraday-Cage around the body, leveling the entire body at the same voltage, protecting it. The same effects are achieved by the people playing with giant Tesla-Coils.

nigel stanford cimatics faraday cage clothes tesla coil

Other effects of lightning strikes

If, after all, Pikachu doesn’t kill Ash with a thunderbolt, the temperature of the lightning, on the other hand, might burn his hat : as I said, the head produced by the plasma turns the temperature of the air at that location to a rough 30'000 °C. There is no material on Earth that can withstand such temperatures without burning or vaporising. Even the most heat-resistant materials — Tungsten and Carbon – do vaporise at “only” 5'500 °C!

Furthermore, temperature has other side effects: radiation. If one day you have used arc welding, you know that you have to wear special black glasses. Theses glasses block the UV radiations. You also should wear a long-sleeve coat, or your forearm would burn too.
The higher temperature a material is, the more high frequency radiation it emits. A full thunderbolt attack from Pikachu might turn Ash brown over time.

Finally, a last notable effect of electric arcs is ozone production. Ozone, or tri-oxygen, is produced by ionizing the oxygen of the air. It is produced by high voltage installations, and its smell is very recognizable. In high atmosphere, ozone is produced by cosmic rays and UV-light produced by our sun. It has also the ability to block about half of the hazardous UV radiation before it hits the ground. In high altitude, ozone creates a protective layer in the atmosphere without which life on the ground would be compromised.

Near the ground however, ozone is a nasty pollutant. It is irritant for your lungs and is responsible for kidney diseases and neurological and visual disorders. In other words, in addition to be carbonized, Ash would be senile, blind and urinating in an incontrollable way wherever he goes. At age 10.

Something to make a queer spin-off series, isn’t it?


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