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Students may find it incredible that there is a connection between lightning—which can be as hot as 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit—and the static electricity in this experiment, which produces not so much as a snap, crackle, or pop.
We use the term charged to describe bodies in which the numbers of protons and electrons are unequal. We use Franklin’s terms positive and negative to describe the charges. If there are more protons than electrons, the charge is positive; if there are more electrons, it is negative. Unlike charges attract. When the bodies carrying them touch, there is a transfer of electrons in which the two charges tend to equalize each other.
When we rub the comb, it picks up electrons from the wool and becomes negatively charged. The charge attracts the Cheerio by way of the nail, which acts as a conductor. But when the Cheerio touches the nail, it takes on the negative charge. Like charges repel. The next time we do the experiment, the Cheerio continues to be repelled.
Lightning, too, is a matter of positive and negative charges. In the turbulence of a storm cloud, a negative charge builds in the bottom of the cloud. It induces positive charges on the ground and within the clouds. At the swift meeting of positive and negative, we see the flash.
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