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Answer: It is recommended to keep your house temperature at 68°F during the day, and much lower at night. Three to five percent more energy is used for each degree the furnace is set above 68°F. A programmable thermostat can help you save energy by lowering the temperature while you’re asleep or at work. When you are out of town for a few days, it’s best to turn the heat off altogether, but if you live in an area with freezing temperatures and have central heating, leave heat on at its lowest setting. This helps to prevent pipes from freezing.

Answer: A turbine generator produces electricity at a power plant, after which the electricity is sent to a transformer that boosts the voltage so that it can travel long distances over power lines more efficiently. (Voltage is a measure of the force with which the electricity is “pushed” through the lines.) The electricity then travels along thick, high-voltage transmission cables made of copper or aluminum. When these high-voltage lines approach neighborhoods, transformers along the power lines’ path decrease the voltage to levels that are safe for use in homes, schools, and other buildings. Because it travels along a circuit, the electricity then returns from buildings back to the transformers and power lines.

Answer: Electricity starts with atoms, the tiny particles that make up everything around us. Even tinier particles called electrons orbit the centers of atoms. When electrons move between atoms through a wire, electricity results. Electricity is typically produced at power plants, where various energy sources are used to turn turbines. The turbines turn electromagnets that are surrounded by heavy coils of copper wire. The moving magnets cause the electrons in the copper wire to move from atom to atom, generating electricity.

Answer: I’m going to assume you mean “fossil fuels” when you say fossils. Yes, electricity and fossil fuels ARE really important! Natural gas is a fossil fuel. Try to imagine life without all the things you use that are powered by electricity and natural gas. Natural gas is used for cooking and heating, as well as to generate the electricity that powers your technology items, your entertainment, and essentials like lights. Our world would be very different without the things that electricity and fossil fuels make possible.

Answer: Millions of years ago, even before the dinosaurs, tiny plants and animals died and settled to the bottoms of lakes and oceans. Eventually these fossilized remains were covered by sand and mud. They then decomposed and as a result of the earth’s heat and pressure, the fossils were converted to natural gas.

Answer: Scientists do not know for sure how an electric current is generated inside the earth because it is so hard to test, but here is one popular hypothesis. Inside the earth’s outer core is molten metal that heats to very high temperatures and causes the particles in it to become charged (ionized). These charged particles are subject to circulating waves of heating and cooling as the high temperatures in the core fluctuate. The movement or flow of the charged particles causes the electrical current, which in turn creates the earth’s magnetic field.

Answer: Shoes are on power lines because people toss them up there. There are numerous reasons why they do this, but none of them have to do with electricity transmission or safety! Hanging shoes are a potential hazard to the line, so don’t ever do this yourself. The balls you are referring to are warning indicators for low-flying aircraft. These colored balls alert pilots to the presence of the lines so they don’t fly into them. We may be able to see power lines clearly from the ground, but from the air they are hard to detect. In areas of bird migration they protect birds from hitting the lines as well.

Answer: I am assuming your question is related to static electricity. (If you were asking about static on phone lines, please submit this as another question and I will respond accordingly.) When an object builds up an electric charge it is called static electricity. Static electricity is created by an imbalance of positive and negative charges. This occurs when the outer electrons from one substance get free from their atoms and attach to another substance, thus giving the second substance a negative charge. Electrons can get free when two items rub together creating friction—like your shoes shuffling across a rug. Two things with opposite charges will pull toward each other, creating a flow or current.

So yes, static is related to electricity, but static electricity is different from electrical current because it does not flow continuously. For more information about this, go to the Energy Science-SMART/Fire in the Sky/Science Concepts section of this website.

Answer: Birds can sit on power lines and not get electric shocks because the electricity is always looking for a way to get to the ground. The birds are not touching the ground or anything in contact with the ground, so the electricity will stay in the power line. But if a bird with large wings touches a power line and a tree or power pole at the same time, it gives electricity a path to the ground, and could be shocked. And if a bird touches two wires at once, it will create a circuit—electricity will flow through the bird and likely electrocute it.

Answer: Electricity is always looking for the easiest path to the ground. So if you contact electricity from a power line, or even from an electrical appliance like a toaster or hair dryer, electricity will use YOU as its path to the ground and you will be shocked or electrocuted. Electric shock can cause muscle spasms, a rapid pulse, severe burns, weakness, shallow breathing, unconsciousness, or even death. Learn how to prevent this by visiting the rest of this website.

Answer: If you think about it, you’ll realize that our modern lives would practically come to a standstill without electricity. For starters, we use it to bring light to our homes, schools, and workplaces; to heat and cool our buildings; to power our manufacturing equipment, appliances, and other electrical devices like music players and TVs; and to communicate through phones and computers. Things would be pretty dark and quiet without electricity!

Answer: A regular incandescent light bulb is hot to the touch because over 90% of the electricity that flows into it is lost as heat. The rest of the electrical energy is converted to light when it heats up a wire inside the light bulb called a filament. The filament is made of tungsten, a metal that stays solid at very high temperatures. When the tungsten heats up, it glows and emits light through the bulb. By contrast, compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) are energy efficient because they waste very little electricity as heat, and thus most of the electricity passing into them goes to producing light. This is even more the case with the newer, most efficient, light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, like those used for holiday lighting.

Answer: Natural gas is called “natural” because when this type of gas was first discovered, it could be used directly from the ground in its natural state, without any processing. Today, gas utilities process natural gas by removing water, sand, and other compounds so that when the gas is delivered to your home it will burn as cleanly and efficiently as possible.

Answer: Yes! Electricity always takes the easiest path to the ground. So if you touch a power line while you are standing on the ground or anything that is touching the ground (such as a ladder or a tree), electricity will travel through you. You could be seriously hurt or even killed.

Answer: Shoes hanging on a power line don’t get burned for the same reason that birds standing on a power line don’t get shocked: they don’t give electricity a path to the ground, so electricity stays in the line and does not go through them. But if the shoes were to touch a power line and a power pole at the same time, they would provide a path to the ground and would get blasted with electric current. It wouldn’t be pretty!

By the way, if you ever see someone throwing shoes up onto a line, tell them to stop! The shoes can damage the power line, or someone trying to get the shoes down could be seriously shocked or even killed.

Answer: A natural gas flame burns hotter than a campfire. In general, cooler flames appear yellow, orange, or red, while hotter flames look blue or white. (Flecks of orange in your gas flames are OK, but if the flame is yellow, large, and flickering, the appliance needs a safety adjustment.)

Answer: Yes! An electric eel uses chemicals in its body to manufacture electricity. A large electric eel can produce a charge of up to 650 volts, which is more than five times the shocking power of a household outlet.

Answer: The ancient Chinese were the first to discover underground deposits of natural gas. In 600 BC, Confucius wrote of wells 100 feet deep yielding water and natural gas along the Tibetan border. The Chinese piped the gas to where it was needed through long, hollow bamboo stalks.

Answer: One lightning strike can carry up to 30 million volts—as much electricity as 2.5 million car batteries.

Answer: Neither! In the wires of an electrical circuit, the electrons are always jiggling around. When a circuit is closed to run an appliance or a light bulb, the electrons jiggle a lot and travel through the wire. When the circuit is open, all the electrons just jiggle where they are—kind of like running in place.

Answer: Ben Franklin’s famous key did give off an electric spark. But lucky for Franklin, the kite was just drawing small electrical charges from the air. If the kite had been struck by lightning, Franklin might have been seriously injured or killed!

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