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I'm writing a story that has a mobile multi-purpose type weapon that functions by creating an obscene amount of electricity; to make it easy on myself I've used magic as an in-universe mechanic to allow for this to manifest itself in various ways. Besides surges and waves of lightning, or very dense sharp bolts of electricity, what ways could an infinite amount of electricity be weaponized, and how would this look visually based on it's properties?

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    $\begingroup$ I managed to get to the crux of it, and edited accordingly. Thanks for the notice! $\endgroup$ – Bacom15 Aug 26 '20 at 7:45
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    $\begingroup$ What is "electricity"? (There is no physical quantity called "electricity".) What are the units of measurement for that "obscene amount"? $\endgroup$ – AlexP Aug 26 '20 at 7:49
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    $\begingroup$ i assume you actually mean "arbitrarily large", not "infinite"? $\endgroup$ – ths Aug 26 '20 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ Hmmm. This is a fishing-for-ideas question that isn't well suited to a site that uses as its basic model "one-specific-question/one-best-answer." It's open-ended and up for interpretation. Electricity is the movement of electrons, which you admit you don't understand. Neither do some of the respondents (I'm an EE, making me a reasonable judge). Frankly, other than an electron beam, what you're proposing doesn't work IRL because electricity always moves to the lowest charge point (ground), meaning you can't control the discharge, which is why tasers use wires. $\endgroup$ – JBH Aug 26 '20 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ Like many infinite things in physics, collapsing the visible universe comes to mind. $\endgroup$ – Mark Aug 26 '20 at 17:35
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As others have noted, "infinite" electricity is a problem. Let's focus on "a lot" instead. (Aside: as noted, "electricity" isn't a unit. You probably want to measure energy in joules, or, if you want to limit the rate of energy discharge, in watts.)

You essentially have a lightning bolt, and the effects will be very similar. If your weapon can magically cause the charge to appear at a distance from itself, this will be a pretty neat weapon; enough electrons dumped into a target point will do fun things like cause the target to turn into plasma very quickly. This will likely result in just about anything turning into a (very hot) gaseous cloud and may break molecular bonds. You will also get an explosion from all that sudden heat and pressure (same reason you hear thunder). If this can bypass either conventional or sci-fi electromagnetic shielding, you have the potential to destroy just about anything, or (if it's very large, e.g. an aircraft carrier rather than a person) at least damage it severely.

If, on the other hand, the device can only generate the charge at itself, well, your device had better be very robust or you have more of a nifty bomb than a (reusable) weapon. In either case, being anywhere near it when it goes off is (to use one of my favorite words) contraindicated. You'll also need a high-powered laser (or "magic") to create a path of least resistance between the weapon and your intended target, or aiming is going to be next to impossible.

Really, though... I can't think of any way in which it won't essentially look like lighting. But, who cares? Lightning is awesome.

Okay, if you want to get clever (and since you mentioned "magic"), you could have it project ball lightning. The idea here is that your weapon creates a small sphere of enormous electrical potential which it can shoot. This could go a couple ways:

  • The containment is really good. The projectile is filled with plasma, and glows like a miniature sun.
  • The projectile has two containment shells. The first is really small, the second (for whatever reason) is significantly larger. There is some leakage from the inner containment. The projectile looks like a very, very scary version of a plasma globe.
  • The containment isn't perfect, so you get some leakage as the projectile is moving. Besides glowing like a miniature sun, you get a "corona" of arcs shooting off into nowhere... or even more excitingly, randomly connecting with points of low resistance like the hover engines on a Matrix hovership.

Any of these seems plausible; it's just a question of how you want the effect to look. In any case, when it hits, expect a massive burst of light. Again, think "lightning bolt", only the "bolt" is compressed into a point. (The energy is also going to want to take the path of least resistance from the impact point to "ground", if there is such a thing. In space, it's likely to just spread out and leave the target highly charged. I'm not sure what effect, if any, that will have, aside from you really don't want to come into contact with that ship without some very, very careful charge equalization.)

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    $\begingroup$ (+1 For contraindicated) Would an infinite-power-electrical-ball-shooting weapon not essentially be (en be nigh indistinguishable from) a plasma cannon? $\endgroup$ – Flater Aug 27 '20 at 11:45
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    $\begingroup$ I think it might be more destructive. AFAIUI, a plasma cannon mainly does damage by virtue of being really, really hot. Now we're adding a ton of electrical charge to the mix... but yeah, if your plasma cannon shoots discrete "bullets" (as opposed to a continuous stream), they're pretty darned similar. Honestly, to some extent, I was looking at this as a plausible way to explain how and why an in-universe plasma cannon works 🙂. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Aug 27 '20 at 13:18
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    $\begingroup$ As soon as you said "ball of lightning", I imagined a balloon that's just STUFFED with electrons. As soon as it pops... LIGHTNING BALL $\endgroup$ – Mooing Duck Aug 28 '20 at 2:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Blueriver, I won't get into that discussion (ahem: "this is why sci-fi writers can't have nice things") except to note that I never specified or AFAICT even suggested any FTL effects. I assume this weapon is still subject to the speed of light. I'm not sure where you got the notion that it isn't? $\endgroup$ – Matthew Aug 28 '20 at 4:12
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    $\begingroup$ @DanFernandez, if you were to charge it slowly, you'd be right. We're talking about a great big honking charge concentrated at a single point suddenly encountering a (relatively "neutrally" charged) target. The effect should be the same as your hypothetical second projectile as all those tightly packed electrons want to get away from each other and spread out. Damage will fall off exponentially from the point of impact. (OTOH, this brings up a good point; every time you hit something electrically isolated with this weapon, its efficacy is going to decrease as the target's charge increases.) $\endgroup$ – Matthew Aug 28 '20 at 13:46
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Electricity is flow between two different levels of charge - Water running downhill is the metaphor I was taught; define your two charge levels, and voltage is the "vertical distance" between them, current is how much force the water has as it falls. How high is an infinite mountain? How fast does water flow down an infinite waterfall? "Infinite" voltage would imply a voltage difference between an infinite charge and a finite charge, which I guess would have "infinite" current flowing between it.

Physics breaks down with infinity in it, but taking this example to the rediculous, the "positive end", or point at infinite charge, would hold infinite voltage relative to every other point in the universe. This would spark (spark in air is about 10,000 volts per cm. spark max distance is... infinity / 10,000 .... = infinity) to every point in the universe, and the spark would carry... infinite current. The universe would heat up by... an infinite amount.

Basically this would end the universe by converting it to plasma.

If any mathematicians read this answer I apologise profusely. I now need to write "I will stop calculating when I see infinity" an infinite number of times on the whiteboard :p

Replacing "infinite" with "finite but very very large" you're just going to get bigger lighting, hotter plasma, and a wider area of effect. Your weapon is basically going to convert the planet your standing on into a temporary sun.

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    $\begingroup$ I get the majority of what you're saying (sorry for the infinity shenanigans), but I was wondering as well if there are any associated phenomena that start to occur when voltage, current, etc begin to reach large amounts. You mentioned the sparks in air, but is that essentially it? I was under the impression that at high levels something like electromagnetic fields or atmospheric interactions and phenomena may occur as well. Thanks for the simplistic explanation of everything else as well, I really needed it! $\endgroup$ – Bacom15 Aug 26 '20 at 9:53
  • $\begingroup$ I think the plasma and lightning will be so intense you wont notice the magnetic field. I dont have a lot of experience with this part of physics, but infinite power magically generated at a point implies point charge, and cnx.org/contents/atl-mE0g@1/… suggests that a point charge only generates a magnetic field if its moving. I guess if the weapon created infinite power in a coil of wire it could have an interesting magnetic field. $\endgroup$ – Ash Aug 26 '20 at 10:43
  • $\begingroup$ +1 for the whiteboard. $\endgroup$ – Emilio M Bumachar Aug 26 '20 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Ash Nah bro, introducing infinity is fine provided you keep in mind it's a heuristic for making something grow without bound. $\endgroup$ – Daron Aug 26 '20 at 13:59
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    $\begingroup$ Energy is matter. Infinite voltage drop implies you have infinite energy in a finite space or, given the Way space likes bending, an infinitely small space. Then what you have is a singularity, AKA a black hole. Moral of the story: Don’t play with infinity outside of theory. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Aug 26 '20 at 14:48
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Infinitely strong Electromagnet.

Rip apart all metal parts of your opponents.

If you cleverly fine-tune several such magnets around yourself, you might be able to keep your own metal parts relatively intact while ripping apart those of your enemies outside the contraption.

Mitigation against fast incoming metal parts purchased separately.

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Your device can produce arbitrarily enormous amounts of energy. Large amounts of energy can warp space-time just like large amounts of mass. (Remember E=mc^2?) That means that your device could be used to create black holes or even gravitational waves (assuming the magic of the device doesn't require a realistic "fuel" source). This weapon could be DEVASTATING.

Depending on how you play with rules of the magic, this thing could generate black holes at a safe distance from itself, create a black hole on top of itself (like a bomb), or send out gravitational waves.

Getting hit with extremely powerful gravitational waves would probably feel like being alternately stretched and squeezed. And a powerful enough wave could destroy structures like an explosive shock-wave, but be virtually impossible to shield against.

If the device creates tiny black holes, they will evaporate almost immediately in massive explosions (think atomic bomb scale and bigger). If it generates more massive black holes, it could quickly consume planets, stars, or even entire solar systems.

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The best way is to destroy or displace protons and/or electrons from large area. You can even destroy whole universe with that

I've read in some Ringworld books about weapon of two parallel beams - one destroyes (supresses) protons charge, other destroys (suppresses) one of electrons. That is devastating in any case - even if rate of destruction is low. (see comment from ZeissIkon for more detailes)

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    $\begingroup$ The "Slaver digging tool" doesn't destroy particles (that would violate conservation of mass/energy, even worse than reactionless thrusters do). What it does is suppress the charge -- originally, as discovered, on the electron, then after some fiddling by the Puppeteers, alternatively on the proton. The one brought to the Ringworld aboard Lying Bastard had two emitters, one for each type of beam. Warning was, "a current will flow"... $\endgroup$ – Zeiss Ikon Aug 26 '20 at 13:38
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    $\begingroup$ That's one of my favorite XKCD What If's <3 $\endgroup$ – The Square-Cube Law Aug 26 '20 at 14:01
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Dimensional rift.

Electricity is movement of electrons. Let us assume you can open a rift to a dimension where there is a charge difference, allowing electrons to flow into that dimension or out to ours. This I think is a well worn trope - the other dimension is high water; set up a waterwheel and use the difference to make energy.

Free electricity is good for all the things electricity is good for. Usually people interested in mayhem convert electricity to other forms of destructive energy that are easier to channel. For example - charge capacitors and power a railgun or a coilgun. Turn an electric motor and drive your electric war vehicle around menacingly. Use electricity to split water and make peroxide, then power your V2 rocket with that. Use electricity to heat water and turn a fan, so after a shower and blowdry you look good for the cameras to inspire your people. Keep the lights on at night and the air conditioner running, so you can scheme over maps until the wee hours, pushing little model tanks around with long sticks.

Yes, electricity is good for many things. Even I like the warm shower one and I am not particularly inclined to mayhem at the moment.

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If you’re using magic, why not truly use magic, with only those limitations that make sense within your built world?

Using “electricity” seems to lend authenticity, credence or realism… and don’t you think misusing “electricity” in place of some “magic whiplash” denies authenticity, credence or realism?

Could you concentrate on “a weapon” or explain how that being “mobile multipurpose” mattered?

Real weapons - tasers; cattle-prods - do not “create” electricity. They discharge it. Does that difference matter to you?

If your gizmo functions by creating electricity, how do you think electricity is “created”? How is that different from electricity being “generated”?

If you must ignore your own magical lore, what difference do you see between “surges and waves of lightning” and “very dense sharp bolts of electricity”?

In what ways electricity could be weaponized or how that might look based on it's properties is your job!

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