Railguns - A railgun(also called an EM gun is a deceptively simple weapon that is seemingly advanced Railguns are made using two parallel

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A railgun (also called an EM gun) is a deceptively simple weapon that is seemingly advanced. Railguns are made using two parallel conductive rails with a space between them the size of the projectile to be fired. The projectile to be fired is most often made of aluminum, copper, or (more recently) graphite. These rails are then connected to an extremely large power source. This power supply sends electric current through one rail, through the projectile (the projectile must be conductive), and back through the second rail, completing the circuit. The huge amount of electricity flowing through this circuit creates an incredibly powerful magnetic field that acts on the electrons in the projectile. The interaction between the magnetic field and the electrons is known as the Lorentz Force . This force works in a perpendicular direction to the angle of the magnetic field. Because the magnetic field expands and remains at right angles to the rails, the Lorentz force, in effect, "launches" the projectile down the length of the rails and out the end of the barrel at amazing speed. Because of the nature of electromagnetism and the Lorentz force, the projectile accelerates as long as it is in contact with the rail (with diminishing returns over distance, of course). Therefore, longer rails yield higher exit velocities to a certain extent. On the next page is a diagram of a simple railgun. The armature shown is used in this particular railgun but is not always necessary as the projectile itself can act as the armature. The arrows within the rails show electron flow while the circular arrows show the build up of the magnetic field.
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The Lorentz Force in such a situation is directly proportional to the square of the current that passes through the rails (i), meaning that a power source that contains twice as much power would increase the force acting upon the projectile by four. Because of this exponential relationship, an extremely large amount of power put into the railgun should therefore yield an enormously high velocity. Theoretically, long rails coupled with a very large current, could propel the object to near the speed of light. Realistically, however, the heat generated by friction would undoubtedly make this implausible with current technology, not to mention the hefty amount of power that would also be needed. The concept of a railgun has been around for decades.
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This note was uploaded on 03/18/2008 for the course PHYS 08 taught by Professor Kapphan during the Spring '07 term at Holy Cross (MA).

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Railguns - A railgun(also called an EM gun is a deceptively simple weapon that is seemingly advanced Railguns are made using two parallel

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