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How exactly does air neutralize charged objects?

For example, at what rate does air neutralize a copper sphere of radius R and net charge Q? I assume that the rate may vary depending on the surface area and amount of charge but what physical process takes place? Consider the upper limit of the net charge to be below what would cause a spark in the air. I would really appreciate a full physical explanation along with a quantitative analysis.


marked as duplicate by ACuriousMind, John Rennie, Community Sep 20 '15 at 6:40

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  • $\begingroup$ I would say air is a very good insulator and charged objects typically stay charged. Why do you think air neutralizes charged objects? $\endgroup$ – ACuriousMind Sep 8 '15 at 21:35
  • $\begingroup$ Dry cold air without ionizing radiation and far away from the gas discharge regime essentially doesn't conduct electricity. One can, of course, do a number of things to change that. Sharp edges with large field gradients will cause silent discharges and ionization is hard to suppress unless one works deep underground. $\endgroup$ – CuriousOne Sep 8 '15 at 21:50
  • $\begingroup$ I agree its a good insulator but you can do a simple experiment to see that air slowly neutralizes charged objects. Take a piece of scotch tape and place the sticky side on the smooth side of another piece of tape than remove it quickly. It will be charged and interact electrically with the other piece of tape. However, this effect doesn't last forever, slowly the tape becomes neutralized over time. $\endgroup$ – Alex Sep 8 '15 at 21:50
  • $\begingroup$ You will have to work hard to remove all surface conduction issues with your experiment before you ever get to test the actual conductivity of air. In well designed ionization chambers charge can be held for hours and days without problems, despite the presence of air. $\endgroup$ – CuriousOne Sep 8 '15 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnRennie That answers my question. Thanks for taking the time on an older post. $\endgroup$ – Alex Sep 20 '15 at 6:36

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