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Everyone knows that dragons tend to breathe fire in stories, but some are differentiated containing dragons that breath lightning and it is the latter that interest me at the moment. I researched whether this breath would be biologically possible and I found this post(Plausibility Check: Is it possible to make a lightning dragon plausible?), in it there is a comment saying about a type of chemical laser (COIL) (gaseous chlorine, molecular iodine, and a liquid solution of bleach and lye) that would be released by the eyes to ionize the air through which electrical current would be conducted for the attack. Until then I thought it was scientifically possible to have an animal that releases rays (in a hypothesis where they were created by gods instead of having evolved), my doubts were about what this attack would be like (sound, color, appearance, voltage, etc. ), so I made my post(Biological Electrolaser). It had an answer from Rafael and it had the following comments from Adrian:

[Umm... "The current will flow from the highly charged dragon" since the dragon started electrically neutral and ended "highly charged", where did the opposite charge go and how come it stayed there instead of neutralizing back the charged dragon? If the target remains charged after the hit, then the target is electrically insulated - what is pushing the electricity to flow from the dragon to the target? (hint: the capacitance of a human body is about 100pF. At 3MV, the stored energy is 450J - about the energy used by a single defibrillator shot - not enough to cause burns) – Adrian Colomitchi yesterday

@AdrianColomitchi, the real point of my answer is to explain what the lightning would look like. But if you insist, I'd say the dragon is capable of generating a very high static charge (think van de graaf generator). Since the dragon is surrounded by air, an insulator, the charge cannot easily escape off the dragon. Once a path of ionized air connects the dragon to the victim, the charge flows and balances the voltage. As I said in my answer, nothing will flow once equilibrium is reached; hence a one time shot. – Rafael yesterday

@AdrianColomitchi, And 450 MV is plenty to cause burns! I'm not talking about frying the person from the inside, but the electrical arcs around him certainly will cause burns. – Rafael yesterday

"think van de graaf generator... And 450 MV is plenty" So, you are keeping the charge separated on different parts of the dragon, all 450MV of it. What insulator your dragon is made up of? Breakdown voltage of dry air is 3MV/m, to keep those 450MV from discharging through air you'll need 150m distance between charge storage - ignoring corona discharges. Pressurized gas VdG generators are only capable of 25MV.. Largest open air VdG - 2MV max. – Adrian Colomitchi yesterday

Besides, if you keep the opposite charge still on the dragon, the one that you want to dump on the target will be in small enough quantity: the opposite charge will want to keep most of it close to it. Methinks you'd need a refresher on circuits and capacitance. – Adrian Colomitchi yesterday

@AdrianColomitchi, probably. I have no formal training in electrical engineering. However, my main concern was with the properties of the lightning as opposed to an efficient system for the dragon to produce lightning bolts. (Correction: I meant 450J not 450MV) – Rafael yesterday

"However, my main concern was with the properties of the lightning as opposed to an efficient system for the dragon to produce lightning bolts." then, for goodness sake, do not try to explain how the lightning works! Or learn about how it does before explaining it, otherwise at least you'll create a cringe feeling in those who read your explanation. For instance: "450J is plenty to cause burns" - 450J will raise the temperature of 1 teaspoon of water (4.92g) by 22C; and humans are 70% water – Adrian Colomitchi yesterday

@AdrianColomitchi, and exposure to water causes 3rd degree burns at 55ºC. Convenient eh? And a basic understanding of the system is required in order to know what it will look like. – Rafael yesterday

sigh... fine Rafael, if you want to make a fool of yourself, I'll let you be. For 35+ years, never got in an ICU on the account of having my morning espresso at around 65-70C. If you want to believe that one teaspoon of water at 55C will cause white, black, deep red or charred skin, who am I to stop you? – Adrian Colomitchi yesterday]

This left me in doubt again and here's my question: emission of electricity from a flying living being would it really be possible via laser and if so, how?

Notes: the electricity attack doesn't have to contain millions of volts, just enough to incapacitate Simeone. It is necessary to take into account the aforementioned laser. If the text is strange, it's because I had taken a screenshot of the comments, but then they told me to copy and paste, so I did it.

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    $\begingroup$ hehe +1 this is indeed separate, it was hand-waived in the first one.. at first sight.. I haven't got the answer, real millions-volt lightning spit out by an organism cannot be possible without magic. Very curious what science based solutions will pop up ! $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Oct 23 at 15:08
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    $\begingroup$ Please don't include critical information in a screenshot. It makes the site inaccessible for people relying on screen readers. Since the information is just test, it should be easy to edit this post to include the information as text. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Oct 23 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ @WizardKing your dragon has a considerable size. To reach a target with lightning 10-15 meters away in dry air, it will need at least a million volts. To incapacitate a creature.. you'll need energy (actual current). See Lemmings and my previous answer. Dream on !! No science can provide that capability to any organism, let alone flying organism.. you'll need metal conductors and a BIG energy source. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Oct 24 at 12:15
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    $\begingroup$ The energy source I was thinking about being the rider, the magic would only be needed to recharge the dragon and even then the magic would not come from the dragon itself making it as scientifically plausible as possible. $\endgroup$ Oct 24 at 13:02
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    $\begingroup$ Nice idea to let the rider provide the energy, One problem less. The dragon picks up the energy and transforms it (handwaive) to electron charge. When charge buildup is large enough, discharge will take place. Handwaived: the dragon's mouth would contain some supercapacitor like-tissue (let the plasma shortcut that ??) HOW to keep this scientific.. btw what do you mean by "incapacitate".. this beam does not need to kill ? like paralize ? or shock/aw.. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Oct 24 at 13:58
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still work in progress, but I can't keep it in the browser for days until I complete it

Disclaimer - it cannot be as asked!

There's nothing biological in nature able to generate voltages in the kV range with discharges over significant distances in air and current intensities large enough to incapacitate a human.

The followings are offered as a sciency presentation with (hopefully) entertaining value (in the what-if.xkcd.com spirit)

How to charge a spherical dragon in flight

  1. the dragon needs to be spherical, any other shape will worsen the efficiency of charge storage_. Even more, spiky things tend to play bad with intense electrostatic fields. So, no claws or fangs or spinal spikes please

  2. the dragon needs to be covered in a skin with a high breakdown voltage, while its endothelium is exhibiting metallic level of conduction (like the sphere of a Van de Graaf generator, covered by a reusable shopping bag made from a plastic that's an unobtanium good electrical insulator)

  3. the dragon will only be able to charge itself only if it can expel the opposite charge to a medium. The process of charging will be a lot more efficient if the medium to receive the charge is conductive (or becomes conductive under high voltages). Being in flight, I suppose this means the dragon will charge itself easier if the process happens in a cloud.

  4. for practical purposes the dragon needs to be a pretty big sphere, to have a high enough capacitance - that is, to be able to charge itself with a large amount. The size requirement it's pretty natural if you think of it: a dragon of the size of a hydrogen atom can only lose a single electron.

  5. there have to be something inside the dragon that is able to pump charges against a huge voltage differential. We'll come later to explore how can such a high voltage source can be built (this will be another reason for having a huge dragon).

  6. the dragon needs to be able to extend a quite long and conductive appendage, sheathed in the same unobtainium good insulator.

Something like in the sketch below, where the green stuff is the unobtainium insulator, the black is the conductive and you have the high voltage source in the middle:

enter image description here

So, starting with a neutral dragon in the diagram above, a very few moments after the charging starts, the charge distribution will be something on the line of:

enter image description here

You are invited to note:

  1. the charge on the "hull" of the spherical dragon resides on its exterior. Because, yeah, a Faraday cage works for spherical dragons too
  2. The density of charges is higher in the area where the two oppositely charge conductors are closer - that is, where the insulated tail leaves the dragon. This is also the point where you wouldn't want your insulator to suffer a breakdown with no shrink (or sparky) around. For a more exact charge distribution, the reader is kindly asked to solve the associated Dirichlet problem

As the charging progresses and the voltage increases:

high charge

  1. the tail will start glowing with a corona discharge, ejecting the charge outside the dragon
  2. the (majority of the) ejected charge (under the form of ions, positive or negative as they may be) will migrate around the dragon to form the "air armature" of a spherical capacitor.

As long as you don't lose that opposite charge outer layer, the dragon will not be able to reliable fire a lightning bolt. Because the presence of that double layer will shield the voltage as it is sensed by the would-be target. If you try to fire, the opposite charge outside will rush in to neutralize you "beam" and "start a fire close to home", distorting the direction of your lightning beam in unpredictable ways.

So, how do you get rid of it? Or, at least, the majority of it?
Well, you can try to transfer it to the dragon's most significant other, or you can recall that those are ions and, as such:

  1. very likely they like being captured by water droplets; and
  2. they are heavier than an electron and their mobility as a charge carrier is low. Incidentally, this is one mechanism of charge separation in clouds - some of the charges are carried down as the rain starts to form - trapped in water, their mobility is even lower and their charge/droplet can't fight gravity

So, shortly before the attack, the dragon is advised to fly through a rainy cloud and wash away the outer layer of charges. It will end in a state as schematically pictured here:

after washing the outer charge layer

High voltage source

With my thanks to Kilisi for his answer, I'll borrow the electric eel's mechanism and scale it accordingly.

The electric eel's electrogenesis is carried by electrocites, which are cells that are similar with muscle cells (myocites), except that the membrane depolarization is not used for contracting the myosin fibrils but dumped as an electrical discharge.

Those electrocites are charged in parallel, each layer of cells being able to "recharge" to a voltage of about 0.12V, but the discharge mechanism couples them in series and adds their voltage (pretty much like a Marx generator).

The trick that the eels pulls is possible by the fact that they are living in water (even if they do need about 10% of their oxygen from air) - the water conducts better than the layer of fat under their skin, so the main discharge channel is carried by water.
Unfortunately, out spherical lightning dragon doesn't have the watery environ as an advantage, so the "stack" of electrocites must be wrapped by the same unobtanium perfect insulator.

Now, another important thing: the charging progresses in pulses, brief discharge followed by a recharge period. You can bet the already separated charge just can't wait to go back the way it was before, so I'm afraid one will need a diode appropriately placed in the charging circuit to protect the source during the recharge part of the cycle.

And wait, that's not all. About that time required to reach the voltage you want. You see, you are charging a capacitor from a source with internal resistance. Unless your source is able to pump the charge at a higher voltage than the one you need, be prepared to experience an asymptotic exponential charge curve, in which the time to reach 98% of the source voltage take 4 times longer than to reach 63% of the source voltage: RC charging

Now, some considerations about the size

So, you want a true lightning experience from your dragon. The usual lightning is 100MV-10GV in voltage, but then it has to discharge over 2-20km. Our dragon surely is closer to the target. Ok, let dash a 30MV voltage, surely it must be one order of magnitude higher than the 1MV ultra-high voltage transmission lines that China builds and/or operates.

An Electrophorus electricus of about 2m produces voltages around 600V, using its main organ which seems approximately half of its length.

Ok, to get those 30MV voltage from 600V/m, don't be surprise if the diameter of your spherical dragon is 30MV/600V... ummm... no, it's too much... let's say 10km? Sure, you can have the source narrower and coiled up, after all you're using an unobtainium insulator, but you'll lose:

  1. the fast time to recharge - it scales down with the number of "generation fibers", and a narrower fascicle means less of them
  2. the surface for storing the electric charge

Yeah, yeah, ok, I hear you, we can't have a spherical dragon with a diameter of 10 km. I'll come back to it later.

The discharge

Well, Ok, you want a channel that is pre-formed by a laser pulse that ionizes the air between the spherical dragon and the target. However, this will create only a preferential path for the streamers/steppers, not a thick copper cable.

TBC: negative corona vs positive corona. Make your dragon negative.

TBC: how much energy lost to obtain a higher concentration of charge carriers? (nitrogen/oxygen dissociation, ionization, loss by heating/plasma expansion)

TBC: how much electrostatic energy we need to start with to at least disable a human?

TBC: out of curiosity, given the efficiency of ATP pumps, how much energy the dragon has to have in its diet to end a busy working day?

Answers to frequently unasked questions

  1. Why does my dragon be comparatively larger than a cloud producing the same effects? Because a cloud stores the charge in volume, a solid dragon can store it only on its surface. And no, you can't store the energy in a capacitor battery, because the dragon needs to lose the positive charge and keep only the negative one.

  2. why does my dragon tail need to be long? Charge carriers' mobility - if the tail is too short, you'll find all in the air layer "armature" of your capacitor. It'll be much harder to lose it after.

The end

And all of the above for nothing, really. A knight in shiny armor will defeat the lightning dragon not only because of his higher moral ground, but because of the same reason the passengers of a plane (or a car) are safe from lightning strikes: the Faraday cage.

Tell you what, mate. Hire a griffon from the ichthys king's stables, take with you a modern semi-automatic rifle, disable that wannabe hero and get back for dinner, taking a detour through a bottle-shop to pick a wazzaaaa six-pack.

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  • $\begingroup$ I still have some doubts, first: what do you mean spherical? Would the dragon's entire body have to be like this or just the part responsible for producing, storing and releasing lightnings? $\endgroup$ Oct 26 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ Second: what if it was a bird? I noticed that the world I'm building has many types of dragons (dragonets, wyverns, drakes, sea serpents, amphipters, etc), so I decided to change the lightning dragon to a thunderbird. $\endgroup$ Oct 26 at 22:40
  • $\begingroup$ Third: what if the dragon (now bird) had a "pocket" of liquid that stores electricity like a kind of internal biological battery? Could you reduce the size of the creature with this? Then I could use the eel organs to generate electricity, store it in the "batteries" until it has a charge to release lightning. $\endgroup$ Oct 26 at 23:17
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    $\begingroup$ @WizardKing " Would the dragon's entire body have to be like this or just the part responsible for producing, storing and releasing lightnings?" if you make the rest of the dragon from the same insulator, it may work. Otherwise, there will be a strong polarisation of the charge in the rest of the dragon, which will result in reconstituting that capacitor in a way that doesn't allow you to get rig of the outer layer by washing it i the rain. I'll try to add a diagram and some other references to the answer for such a case. $\endgroup$ Oct 26 at 23:21
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    $\begingroup$ "what if the dragon (now bird) had a "pocket" of liquid that stores electricity like a kind of internal biological battery?" Nope. If you store both of the charges inside the dragon, you won;t have lightning; the charge you are to make your electrostatic lightning bolt of? That charge will never want to leave the dragon, because why should it? It has the opposite charge nearby and it's stronger attracted by it. $\endgroup$ Oct 26 at 23:24
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Sure it could. Electric eels emit electricity, all you need is something for the current to pass through.

A high enough discharge could go anywhere and I assume your dragon needs to aim, so it would need to send a stream of something along the path it want it's electrickery to go. Could always vomit at it or squirt at a target or pee on it perhaps if it used a liquid medium.

Alternatively it could spit something else out that would act as a lightning rod and then discharge electricity when it hits the target which would then arc at the object.

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  • $\begingroup$ Electric eels live in a conductive medium, so triggering the shock is not a problem - the medium will help conduct the current. However, the distance the shock is felt is rather small and there's no equivalent of a lightning strike - the current starts and ends on the body of the eel. $\endgroup$ Oct 23 at 23:25
  • $\begingroup$ @AdrianColomitchi just used eel an example that an animal can produce electricity. $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Oct 24 at 0:46
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, it produces a current. No, it doesn't produce a "lightning strike" like the question requires. $\endgroup$ Oct 24 at 3:17
  • $\begingroup$ @AdrianColomitchi I never said it did, feel free to compose your own answer (Y) $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Oct 24 at 3:55
  • $\begingroup$ I downvoted this answer, it is not going to work.. The medium is wrong and 860 Volts is no answer to the question, suppose the dragon has an organ 100x the eel size then it would emit 86kV, in air that voltage won't reach far. see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_eel $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Oct 24 at 12:22
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Two Dragons

What if you don’t have just one dragon? You could have one dragon who gets itself positively charged (hand wave) and another who gets itself negatively charged (another hand wave), then they flank their target. When they get close enough, the electricity discharges from one to the other, passing through the intervening prey.

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Why not have two lasers, one from each eye.

A quick note on terminology voltage is the energy of each electrons and current is the number of electrons flowing, and the total power of a beam is the product of the voltage and the current.

So if you have two beams, and the voltage is low enough so that the electrons don't have enough energy to arc between the laser beams(ie less than a million volts), in this case then there is no large build up of charge on the dragon, as it can flow from one eye, through the target, then back to the dragon, like in the figure shown below. The plasma in the beam means it be be highly conductive so a high voltage is not needed, and more energy can be out into the current.

enter image description here

It would be a plasma/electrolaser mediated taser, and if the dragon could adjust the current flowing then effects could range from incapacitation/injury to barbeque

Since it is a created creature then it could have a large array of cells like from an electric ell (a 20kg ell cam produce 600 volts at ~1A, ie 600W of power (1000W=1kW)), and say that you dragon about as twice as large as a horse (2*400kg) then a ballpark guess at the power output would be ~24000W, a taser uses about 50W of power, a house uses ~9000W, so the dragon would be able to produce a significant shock.

EDIT: elaborating on the numbers

hopefully that helps

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I'm going throw away the laser and present how I would instead make a dragon use lightning. We shall hearken back to the humble tesla coil for this one.

enter image description here

So you want your dragon to strike things with lightning, eh? The solution is simple, since you've already given the ability to generate huge amounts of electricity. Like how clouds generate so strong of an electric field that they ionize the air all on their own before the lightning happens, so too does your dragon generate such a great electric field that its mere presence is enough to ionize the air around them and make it easier for the electricity to flow from dragon to ground. Now there's the kicker. To ground.

The dragon could go the less cool and easier route and land on someone/thing that's in contact with some sort of grounding element before giving their target the shock of their life, but you want a lightning attack, so you're going to get a lightning attack. Once more, just like a cloud that flied above where its lightning strikes, so too will your dragon fly above its target and generate the field. The air will be nice and ionized, and the closest thing leading to ground will be whatever it's flying above, causing the electricity to arc from the dragon to whatever is below it, causing the lightning you want towards whatever was unlucky enough to not have anything around that's taller than them where the arc would go instead. I imagine these dragons would likely hunt in the plains where their arcs are more or less guaranteed to go to something living.

enter image description here

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