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So I'm thinking about having my race of lightning wielding rabbits wear metal armour. The first one that came to mind was gold. And then a quick Google search later told me gold is one of the best conductors of electricity in the world. I have also read some novels where they say that metal armour were usually enchanted with lightning resistance so that their wearers wouldn't be paralyzed or something.but then I saw a Reddit post saying that conversely, wearing armor and getting struck by lightning would actually save you because I assume the current travels to the earth and not through you so you will live to tell the tale.

So first of all, would a good conductor of electricity or a metal that has a really poor conductivity be a better defense against lightning strikes or shocks so that the wearer would not be affected/harmed by the voltage/amperes? [disregarding the fact that the poor rabbit would be toasted if lightning did strike it]

Afterwards, does metal armour really protect you from lightning/electricity when you are wearing full body suit of armour or when wearing just certain parts like the breastplate, greaves and gauntlets?

So if it's even possible at all, what metal can be used to make the Anti lightning armour?

I don't know what tags to put but no fantasy metals

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    $\begingroup$ So, what, it's a race of rabbits in Tesla-suits from RA2? $\endgroup$ – Mr Scapegrace Jul 21 '16 at 13:41
  • $\begingroup$ Urh, was thinking along the lines of Demi-godly moon rabbit beastman but just ignore that. The actual person wearing the armour doesn't matter in my question. $\endgroup$ – Skye Jul 21 '16 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ Read up on Faraday Cages. But gold is generally a terrible material, it's heavy, soft, etc. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Jul 21 '16 at 14:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Sky You say the actual person wearing it doesn't matter? I beg to differ... If they armor up their ears, then whether they're straight-eared bunnies or lop-eared bunnies could matter a great deal to lightning strikes. .. :D $\endgroup$ – Paul Jul 21 '16 at 23:30
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    $\begingroup$ "So I'm thinking about having my race of lightning wielding rabbits wear metal armour." The best opening sentence I've read here so far. $\endgroup$ – inappropriateCode Jul 22 '16 at 11:35
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Both very non-conductive and conductive armour can work. If you wear a full-body suit of armour and get hit by lightning, the current will travel through the armour rather than through you.

This assumes that the suit is continuous and there is no place where one piece of armour does not touch the adjacent piece at all (It's OK if it has holes, if the armour is made explicitly for protection against lightning the pieces would probably be connected by wires to make sure they never completely detach).

If subject to repeated strikes conductive armour could start heating up and eventually melting. To protect against this the most conductive metals would have to be chosen. The more conductive the metal the less heat is created when current flows through it. Gold may still not be a good choice due to its other properties though.

As Cort Ammon mentioned, very high energies, such as those found in natural lightning, may still remain dangerous, so it would be a good idea to coat such a suit of armor with unconductive material on the inside to increase the resistance of the path lightning would have to take to go through you.

If the armour is a worse conductor than the air the lightning will travel through the air rather than through you.

This kind of armour is a bit more problematic. For this to work the armour has to completely cover the wearer, otherwise the lightning will just pass through the hole and then through you.

For this to work the armour would have to be very unconductive, as you being a pretty good conductor can counteract the resistance the armour offers otherwise.

The air through which the lightning passed would also heat up a lot and that could burn you if it is close enough (Assuming the lightning was artificially made to strike exactly where you are, this would be on the very first layer of air on the outside of your armour, which is very close).

Metal also will never be less conductive than (pure) air, so this armor would need to be made of a non-metal.

Partial armour works only in the first case. If you wear a helmet and breastplate but no leg pieces and get hit by lightning, the lightning would travel through the armour where possible and through your legs where there is none.

In the second case partial armour is just like armour with a particularly big hole.

As for the material; any metal works. All metals are more conductive than you + clothes + air between you and the armour.

As commenters and other answers have mentioned, conductive armor would effectively act as a Faraday cage. The link offers a good explanation of how these work.

Edit: Shalvenay did the math, a real lightning bolt is simply too strong even for very conductive armour (which is to say that even if its resistance is very low, the energy dissipated as heat is still sufficient to cook the wearer). Unless your conjured lightning bolts are less energetic (like those produced by tesla coils. They can be stronger than those, but not as strong as lightning), short of a superconductor no armour could really protect you. This is especially true if you're subject to multiple strikes.

When electricity flows through any medium, part of its energy is converted into heat. This property is commonly used in electric stoves, but should usually be minimized. This isn't much of a problem in everyday circuitry since most metals have such a low resistance that the produced heat dissipates quickly enough to not cause any notable increase in temperature, however, the energies involved in a lightning strike are so vast that even the small fraction of them which are converted into heat by their traversal of the metal are large enough to damage the "circuit" (i.e. melt the armor) and its inhabitant. The same effect is the reason why we can see lightning - air has a much higher resistance than metal (which is why lightning rods "attract" the bolt). The energy dissipated when lightning passes through air is strong enough to heat it to the point that it turns into plasma. Similarly, when current passes through the human body it will heat it up, potentially destroying parts of it if the current is strong enough (e.g. if it is a lightning).

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  • $\begingroup$ Great answer, +1. I'll just leave a suggestion to mention what we call a [Faraday Cage]. I believe that by behaving as you describe it, amor would technically be a Farady Cage. I know that people who work with really powerful Tesla Coils wear chain mail for protection... $\endgroup$ – Renan Jul 21 '16 at 14:26
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    $\begingroup$ the heat from lightning is hotter than the surface of the sun. if will vaporize thin metal. $\endgroup$ – Keltari Jul 21 '16 at 17:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Keltari "The heat of the lightning"? The heat produced by the ligntning depends on the magnitude of the resistance in the medium it is traversing. In an optimal conductor the lightning wouldn't produce any heat at all. What are you referring to, exactly? The heat produced when lightning flows through air? $\endgroup$ – Annonymus Jul 21 '16 at 17:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Annonymus incorrect. $\endgroup$ – Keltari Jul 21 '16 at 17:08
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKarnerfors No. I think that it would jump through you rather than through the air between the two pieces. $\endgroup$ – Annonymus Sep 17 '16 at 9:03
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Faraday cages are all fun and games, until you get arc flashed!

There are two problems here — one is that you need to divert the arc current back to its intended return path (not necessarily to ground), and metal or chainmail armors will do that relatively effectively. This is why coilers and HV linesmen use such protection — they are trying to shield against low energy (current limited) arcs and corona discharges due to high E fields, which is relatively easy to do — any ol’ approximate Faraday cage will do.

However, as you increase the arc energy (current sourcing capability of the arc source), trouble starts happening. The temperature of the arc increases to the point where a fully developed arc can be hotter than the Sun’s surface. Furthermore, the amount of energy radiated from the arc in the IR, visible, and UV regions rises to the point where it can ignite combustibles and even raise metals to their vaporization points. This vaporization leads to massive expansion (on the order of tens of thousands of times) and an ensuing blast wave that can propel molten metal, shrapnel, and other projectiles. The resulting devastation is termed an arc flash, and requires specialized arc-rated/flame-resistant clothing to protect against.

This means that even inside a Faraday cage, if you are close enough to its walls, the arc flash will still injure you. This isn’t a problem in say a car or an airplane because you are protected by the inverse-square nature of arc flash damage — 15 cm is enough distance to save you from being toasted. However, as you shrink the cage around you, the resulting loss of standoff distance exposes you to more and more of the arc flash to the point where, for a typical lightning strike (1.5 kV due to arc impedance, 1 ms, 30 kA average), at 1 cm from the attach point, you’re exposed to almost 1000 J/cm² of energy as per the Lee model in IEEE 1584 — this is several times what the best arc flash protection available IRL can handle (roughly 250 cal/cm² vs the 40 cal/cm² requirement on class 4 arc rated suits).

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  • $\begingroup$ My head swims from reading this. Does this mean the armour could explode? $\endgroup$ – Skye Jul 22 '16 at 12:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Sky it means that it will if the lightning conjured by your rabbits is as strong as real lightning $\endgroup$ – Annonymus Jul 22 '16 at 12:49
  • $\begingroup$ It also means that if you can figure out how strong your rabbits' conjuration magics are in electrical terms, it'd be possible to first-order compute the amount of damage it'd do using the Lee model from IEEE 1584 ;) $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Jul 22 '16 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ Just realized that lightning strikes and causing arc flashes and blasts would be a great weapon against armored troops :D $\endgroup$ – Skye Jul 24 '16 at 11:29
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Actually, you have found one of the more effective ways of dealing with electricity discharging around your body. The method you suggest is actually used today by those who make Tesla coils to protect them against an accidental (and fatal!) discharge through their body. They typically use chain mail because it is easier to maneuver in than other armors styles and does a good job of draping over very opening to minimize the chance of a mishap because the armor was accidentally open.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95tq5J6ioF0

Against full on lightning, it may or may not be enough. It would definitely help, but real lighting is so mindbogglingly powerful that the armor might not be enough. In the most technical sense, you are in a parallel circuit with the armor. The armor has much less resistance than your body, so the vast majority of the electricity goes through the armor. For mere Tesla coils, topping out at a few dozen kV, that's enough. Lighting strikes clear 100,000 kV on a regular basis, and have an enormous amount of current behind them. Your mileage may vary. It's good enough for a story of lightning wielding rabbits. I would not recommend walking out in a lightning storm wearing any gear based on a StackExchange answer ;-)

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  • $\begingroup$ Actually lightning has a huge amount of energy but most of it goes into the air. People can survive getting hit by lightning without armor on so if you would be fine. $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Jul 21 '16 at 14:34
  • $\begingroup$ @DonaldHobson Very true, but the scare-tactics seem to be a reasonable approach anyway. People do survive getting hit by lightening. They also die often enough that people are recommended to stay away =). I suppose I could have replaced it with an IANAL style warning... maybe "I am not an OSHA official" I'm positive OSHA would dislike any workplace that involves getting hit by lightning =p $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Jul 21 '16 at 14:36
  • $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that coilers are working with current limited arcs -- they only have to deal with a few hundred mA of sustained primary current flowing into the Tesla coil circuit, which makes their arcs far less devastating than an uncontrolled lightning bolt or power system arc flash event. (A lightning bolt (30kA, 1.5kV, 1ms) at 1cm standoff from arc attachment point is near 1kJ/cm2 per the Lee method from IEEE 1584 -- this is far in excess of what arc-rated protective clothing can save you from, and would blow a big hole in any metal plate you put in the way.) $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Jul 21 '16 at 22:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Shalvenay Thanks for the technical pieces I was missing. I made a handwavey assumption that lightning controlled by rabbits would be closer to that of a tesla coil than it would be to an actual natural strike, so I figured coil based logic was reasonable. As we both agree, real lightning strikes are pretty beefy! $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Jul 21 '16 at 22:59
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon -- yeah, trying to use metal armor to protect against high energy arcs is rather futile $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Jul 21 '16 at 23:14
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If the only reason you need armor is to defend against lightning strikes...all you really need is a helmet.

You would basically be building a human lightning rod. So rather than a full suit of heavy heavy armor, you just build a metal (VERY well insulated) helmet with a rod on top. Attach a thick VERY well insulated wire to the rod/helmet.

Maintain control of the wire via some sort of body harness and then ensure that there is enough wire to always keep it on the ground.

This system would provide just as much protection from electricity as a suit of full plate.

It would still be terrifying and you would want ear plugs but it would work.

Keep in mind that any system you create that is based on metals WILL stop working after multiple strikes.

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  • $\begingroup$ A head-mounted antenna works as well. It would also create some distance between your head and the neares place where lightning traverses air (which will be very hot and bright). $\endgroup$ – Annonymus Jul 21 '16 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ Actually, a better option would probably be to carry around a staff. A helmet is still a bit near to your head, but a staff with a flexible appendice on its foot to remain connected to the ground even if lifted and high enough to go over your head (perhaps even bent towards your head to better intercept lightning if whatever force conjures it can also try to push it into a specific path) should attract all lightning bolts and can be made more resistant than a helmet, so as to avoid its breakind down with repeated use. $\endgroup$ – Annonymus Jul 21 '16 at 17:16
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Nearly any metal would work but steel is a sensible option. There's a few things worth considering - designing around a path for lightning - If you arm your rabbits with grounded spears , that might end up being a preferencial path for lightning. Imagine a long pole with a steel tip, with copper inlaid continuously along a wooden handle wrapped in leather where your warriors would hold it. A conductive endcap, with an attached conductive tassel ends the weapon. You have a lightning rod with a pointy lightning conductor on top, and an easy path to ground at the bottom. Which also acts as a pokey stick.

If relying on armour - you'd want to design it around the skin effect The metal needs to have pretty continous coverage (so platemail), and presumably you want to have some good padding between the rabbits and plate, with a good, easy path to ground. I'd also recommend pinning those great bit ears back, since armoured rabbit ears would be pointless and natural antennae

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The thing about this question is that it largely depends on how your lightning magic works. The way I see it, you have three options for your wizards:

  • Negative charge wizards - The wizard is only able to manipulate negative charges. This is un-targeted lightning because it is going to try to reach a positive charge and hopefully that's the enemy, and not a friend. These wizards are known as chaotic bastards with no direction.
  • Positive charge wizards - The wizard is only able to manipulate positive charges. This is targeted shock, but it might not be that powerful. This wizard can make you get a static shock whenever (s)he wants. Very annoying. They can also make sure you die in a thunder storm, they just can't make one.
  • Supreme lightning wizards - The wizard is able to control negative and positive charges at the same time in remote locations. This wizard thinks your Faraday cage armor is cute. "Lightning follows the shortest path to the ground" Yeah? Well I just made you the ground.

If I were a supreme lightning wizard, my favorite targets would be to make your heart or brain become positively charged and then create a negative charge somewhere else, either outside your body...or not.

However, I'm going to assume there is just too much electrical activity in both of those areas for even a highly skilled lightning wizard to target directly. In fact, the whole body might be a difficult place to work our magic on and lightning effect might need to start and end using natural materials. (for some reason)

In this case, our only option is to make a portion of the ground our...ground and energize something else (like a cloud) with a negative charge. If our target is using a Faraday cage we have to hope to kill them with thunder, heat and arc flashes.

The good news (for us) is that even if our lightning doesn't hit and kill anything we can still attack one of the most vulnerable parts of any living thing: the mind.

Shell shock is a psychological disturbance caused by prolonged exposure to active warfare, especially being under bombardment.

As lightning casting bunnies, we are powerful, but we are also wise. We do not face off against armies directly. Instead, we find the enemy as they are traveling and we show them our power.

As they are marching through a field at the pace of a drum, their minds are wandering back to home and the sweet smells of the kitchen. The drum beats bum bum bum their feet respond thud thud thud

flash, crack

Everyone is alert now, everyone is paying attention to activity at the front of the marching column where lightning just struck during an otherwise peaceful day.

Another flash, this time farther down the line. It is clear now that this is no ordinary lightning. The unit is being attacked by an unseen enemy, there is nothing that anyone can do but run and scream.

The lightning falls into a strange rhythm with the drum:

Bum bum bum Flash, crack Bum bum bum Flash crack

After what feels like an eternity of being harassed, the soldiers have grown accustomed to the morbid rhythm. All at once everyone in the marching column winces, expecting another crash...

But it never comes.

Someone starts to laugh hysterically.

It's time to camp, there's a long march ahead of the unit tomorrow.

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I'm a bit confused here, and am going to go a bit off track as a result. You start the question off talking about rabbits who use lightning powers. Generally, things that manipulate an element and use it to attack have a certain level of immunity to that same element, with 99% of all fantasy I've ever read ignoring the super-heated-air part of magical lightning.

I guess it all depends on whether you have a race of Energizer Bunnies who are generating your electric currents + using them to attack, in which case I would try for conductive non-grounded armor, or if your rabbits are using some external item (wand, gun, whatever) to generate lightning, in which case the idea of a conductive grounded armor with a non-conductive coating would be best. You could even expand it to something like an old timey diver suit (full body + sealed) to shield them from the heating of the atmosphere if you wanted to be that thorough. If they're going to bathe in lightning, the air exchange will need a cooler or they'll still roast.

In both cases, their energy could be channeled through the conductive parts of the armor in close combat to pass the charge through their opponent.

Another option for the armor would be to have it made entirely or partially of a generally soft material that stiffens when a current is passed through it, allowing them to stiffen parts of the armor while fighting. I seem to recall hearing about things like that but the names/terms escape me.

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Electricity follows the shortest path to ground. If that's through your body you have trouble. Gold plating or specially designed gold piping over a less conductive material might actually work nicely.

Gold is also extraordinarily heavy so it'd be hard to walk in let alone fight or march.

It's also soft. Bad for stopping a swords arrows lances etc.

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    $\begingroup$ Any common metal is more conductive than flesh. Gold is dense but that just means it takes up less volume. $\endgroup$ – Donald Hobson Jul 21 '16 at 21:58
  • $\begingroup$ Are you suggesting that solid gold armor would work? Assuming the same weight, a suit of armor made of gold would be far thinner than one made of steel. Couple that with the softness of the metal and gold armor does more harm than good. And while any metal is more conductive than flesh, a better conductor will heat up less as it's channeling the electricity around the body (like the faraday suits linemen wear while working on high voltage power lines). And even with a good conductor you want it insulated from the skin. $\endgroup$ – jorfus Jul 22 '16 at 17:41

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