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[TCML] Not coil related, but a HV question

Recently I've gotten involved with a group of high altitude balloon hobbyists. We're always looking for interesting experiments to try in the stratosphere, and I thought of one with HV application. I'd like to run it by everyone here as a thought-experiment first.

Air is a dielectric. Not a great one, but a sufficient air gap between two electrodes prevents arcing. (I may not be expressing this the best way, but you all know what I mean.) If you lower the air pressure greatly, would a high voltage spark leap across the same distance? I imagine something like a charged flash capacitor being lofted in a balloon. The poles of the cap are connected to electrodes separated by a gap sufficient to prevent discharge at normal air pressure. If the balloon lifts the apparatus to, say, 100,000 feet, will we see the apparatus arc over when the air is sufficiently attenuated? Or will we get a kind of corona glow? Or nothing?

A camera would be pointed at the gap to film the result.

Paul Thompson

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