How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 370

As a kid, we'd shake streetlights. They'd get real bright and then explode. Then we'd run away. Why'd they get brighter and explode?
I'll have to guess at this one. If the lamps you are talking about are mercury vapor, then they contain a reservoir or droplet of liquid mercury. If shaking these lamps would cause the mercury to flow out of the cooler reservoir and into hotter regions of the bulb, the mercury would boil and raise the pressure inside the lamp. The current passing through the lamp would increase and the bulb would get very bright. It would also get hotter and hotter, so its pressure would rise still further. Eventually the pressure would become so high that the bulb would explode.

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