This section is from the book "Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry, And Building", by James C. et al. Also available from Amazon: Cyclopedia Of Architecture, Carpentry And Building.
Suppose two carbon rods are connected in an electric circuit, and the circuit closed by touching the tips of these rods together; on separating the carbons again the circuit will not be broken, provided the space between the carbons be not too great, but will be maintained through the arc formed at these points. This phenomenon, which is the basis of the arc light, was first observed on a large scale by Sir Humphrey Davy, who used a battery of 2,000 cells and produced an arc between charcoal points four inches apart.
As the incandescence of the carbons across which an arc is maintained, together with the arc itself, forms the source of light for a large portion of arc lamps, it will be well to study the nature of the arc. Fig. 32 shows the general appearance of an arc between two carbon electrodes when maintained by direct current.
Fig. 32. The Electric Arc between Carbon Terminals.
Here the current is assumed as passing from the top carbon to the bottom one as indicated by the arrow and sign . We find, in the direct-current arc, that the most of the light issues from the tip of the positive carbon, or electrode, and this portion is known as the crater of the arc. This crater has a temperature of from 3,000o to 3,5000o C., the temperature at which the carbon vaporizes, and gives fully 80 to
85% of the light furnished by the arc. The negative carbon becomes pointed at the same that the positive one is hollowed out to form the crater, and it is also incandescent but not to as great a degree as the positive carbon. Between the electrodes there is a band of violet
1ight, the arc proper, and this is surrounded by a luminous zone of a golden yellow color. The arc proper does not furnish more than 5% of the light emitted when pure carbon electrodes are used.
The carbons are worn away or consumed by the passage of the current, the positive carbon being consumed about twice as rapidly as the negative.
The light distribution curve of a direct-current arc, taken in a vertical plane, is shown in Fig. 33. Here it is seen that the maximum amount of light is given off at an angle of about 50o from the vertical, the negative carbon shutting off the rays of light that are thrown directly downward from the crater.
If alternating current is used, the upper carbon becomes positive and negative alternately, and there is no chance for a crater to be formed, both carbons giving off the same amount of light and being consumed at about the same rate. The light distribution curve of an alternating-current arc is shown in Fig. 34.