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Why Thor ISN’T Immune to Electricity

Why are you able toshock the God of Thunder? Let's get technical.  One, hammer. Two, lightning at some point. But despite all of hiselectrical based superpowers, movies like Thor: Ragnarokestablished that Thor is not immune to all forms of electricity. Why though? Shouldn't his power over lightning make more minor shockscompletely harmless?

This seems like a valid criticism, but I do think therecould be something more technical going on. And the answer may shock you. First, we should understandwhat Thor is the god of. Lightning is one of themost spectacular phenomenons in nature, a rapid equalizationof charge differentials that creates a stormof ridiculous numbers. When negative charges built up in cloud finally equalize with thepositive ground charges here on Earth, a lightningbolt jumps across the sky that's 10 times hotter thanthe surface of the Sun, carrying 100 million voltsand traveling at a third the speed of light. It illuminates the nightsky with electric fury. Obviously, we know a lot about lightning, but perhaps shockingly, someof it still remains a mystery.

For example, we know that theaccumulation and separation of positive and negativecharges inside storm clouds is where lightning comes from. However, when we measure the magnitude of the electrical fieldinside of these clouds, we find that mathematically, there isn't enough chargeto form a lightning bolt and yet those lightningbolts happen anyway. So we can't call it magicand we don't want to, but we can't yet call everythingabout lightning, science. Maybe cosmic rays hassomething to do with it? In any case, lightning happens, and when it happens to you,it can obviously be very bad. There are five main ways a lightning bolt can potentially be lethal, and the first you'reprobably most familiar with is a direct strike.

However, this is actuallythe least likely way for a lightning bolt to kill you. A much more likely way todie via lightning strike is through contact strikes. So, for example, if you were holding on to something conductiveand that got struck, and then you got some of thatcurrent running through you. You unfortunately hearabout this kind of strike all the time when scared livestock bunch up against a metalfence during a storm and then the fence gets struck and yeah. Another kind of lightning strikethat barely scratches Thor and is still more likelythan a direct strike is called a streamer,which is an offshoot of the return stroke thattravels up into the sky from a lightning bolt and it kinda travels through you insteadof through the main part of that lightning bolt. Another more likely waythan a direct strike is called a side splash of current, like if a lightning bolt struck a tree and then part of thatcurrent jumped over into you.

But by far, the most deadlyform of lightning strike, accounting for over halfof all strike fatalities, is called ground current. When a lightning bolt strikes the ground, it doesn't just disappear. Some of that current spreadsout in all directions from the strike site looking for places and things to travel through. If you are too close, you will be one ofthose pathways it takes. Some of that currentwill travel up one leg, across your body, causing potential death and a lot of damage and thentravels out the other leg. Thor is apparently immune to all lightning-based electrocutions. He gets struck by lightningall the time and shrugs it off. Now, we may not be Asgardian, but when it comes to lightning, humans are pretty resilient too. A lightning strike can kill you.

It can blow off your shoes. It can burn your clothes. It can leave you withlifelong, chronic side effects. However, your chances of surviving an encounter with lightningare upwards of 90%. Pretty good. When the worst does happen, it's because atmospheric electricity isnot just finding its way through your skin and your muscles. It's literally goingthrough your cardiovascular and nervous systems, andit doesn't take that much electric current at all tointerrupt your heart and stop it. Why isn't it a lot lower? Well, thanks to a quirk of physics, the majority of a lightning bolt doesn't go through our bodies. It goes around it. And this may be the reasonwhy Thor can handle lightning but not an alien space Taser. Ooh, ooh.

If Thor was a specific kindof electrical conductor, it can explain this tase of the MCU. MCU tase four. (screams) You have probably heard of AC/DC before, but in our context, itmeans alternating current or direct current. Electrical current isthe flow of electrons through something like a wire, and when they do that, they can either go in one direction directly or back and forth inalternating directions. AC powers just abouteverything you can think of, and DC is the power we getfrom something like a battery. Now, when electrons flowthrough something like a wire to power, say, the deviceyou're watching me on right now, if we were to cut the wire in half and look for where the electronsare when they're flowing, where would they be?

How would they bedistributed in that wire? Well, your first guesswould be my first guess too, which is they're evenly distributed, they're flowing equallythrough all parts of the wire. And we would be correct if we were talking about direct current. However, in alternating current,the electrons don't flow like this through the wire. They flow like this. They move themselves as faraway from the center as possible and flow along the edges. This is called the skin effect, and it can be so pronounced in some cases that we can make ourconductors like wires hollow because so many electrons,the majority of them, are flowing along the outside edge. The shape of this wire kindareminds of Loki's horn. It's, but then he's, he gotstrangled by an eggplant emoji. The skin effect coulddetermine what kinds of shocks Thor is safe from. As we talked about manytimes on this program, electricity and magnetismare linked, electromagnetism, so when you have a currentflowing through a conductor like a wire, that electrical current alone will create an associated magnetic field. If you start changing thatelectrical current though, like alternating currentdoes, you will start changing the associated magnetic field.

And because a magnetic fieldcan move electrons around, electromagnetism, anotherassociated electrical current is created inside of the conductor. However, these eddycurrents, as they are called, flow in the opposite direction. These opposing currentscan be crazy strong. Just look at the magneticeddy currents that are created inside of an aluminum block when someone tries to pushit over and move it around inside of a very strongMRI magnetic field. It looks as though it's operatingunder a different gravity. When all this happens insomething like a wire, the eddy currents, justbecause of geometry, are more concentrated nearthe center of the wire, which encourages the rest of the current to flow where there's leastresistance around the center, which pushes all of the current effectively towards the outside edges. This is the skin effect, and it turns out thatthe better the conductor and the higher frequency AC, the more pronounced the skin effect. No, not gonna tase me, bro. No, not the hair. Lightning isn't really AC or DC, but its voltages can ramp up so quickly that it can mimic highfrequency alternating current and therefore lightning has anincredibly large skin effect. This is why when we'restruck by lightning, we don't literally explode and why in a lightning storm, it's a decent idea tostay inside of your car because if lightning does hit it, it's more likely to go aroundthe metal skin of the car and not directly throughit and through you.

Keeping in mind everything we just learned about the skin effect,here's what I suggest. Asgardian physiology, or at least Thor's, turns his body into anextremely good conductor that creates a pronounced skin effect when he's struck by lightning. In other words, thanks toThor's Asgardian skin effect, or TASE, almost no lightninggoes through his body or his vital organs andis rather routed around his durable armor andhis ultra-tough skin, like the chassis of a car, awide Australian handsome car. If Asgardian skin canprotect Thor from lightning with a god-like skin effect though, the question still stands. Why can you shock Thor?

We've said Taser a few times now, so now let's evaluate thestandard handheld Taser which is just the most popular name brand for this kind of electrical weapon. This weapon and others likeit are marketed as less lethal because they are designedto run electrical current through muscles and nervoussystems to incapacitate humans. Whether by prong or by shot barb, Tasers and other electrical weapons deliver tens of thousandsof volts of electricity to their targets overmicrosecond-long pulses. Now, the lethality of Taser weapons has been a very contentioustopic over the years, and so, there are a numberof studies and papers looking into the effects ofTasers on the human body. And I just happen to have found one that answers our question almost exactly. In 2005, professionalengineer James Ruggieri published a report calledLethality of Taser Weapons, looking into claimsfrom Taser manufacturers that when struck by a Taser,targets would be protected by a marked skin effect. In other words, not allof the Taser voltage would go directly through thebody and into vital organs. However, what James foundwas that the frequency from Taser strikes was over 100 times less than would be needed to producea significant skin effect.

There would be no skineffect from a Taser, and so, Taser shocks can easily flow through human biological tissue. Applying all of this to our situation, if a space Taser usedlow frequency voltages, like our own earthly Tasers do, then it could theoretically get around a possible Asgardian skin effect that protected Thor from lightning strikes and it could shock, shockhim with a space Taser. So it doesn't all have to be as simple as Thor's immune to allelectricity or he isn't. He could just be resistantto certain forms, which opens him up to be both the God of Thunder and shockable. And we already know of real creatures that are this complicated. Electric eels which areelectric but not eels are known for their ability to generate large amounts of electricityinside of their own bodies, but they are likely notimmune to their own shocks.

If you were to lookinside the body of an eel, you would find musclesand a spinal cord, sure, but you would also findthousands of disc-shaped cells called electrocytes runningalong its entire body. What these cells do is build up charge inside and outside of themwith ions and with chemistry, and then when the electriceel wants to strike, it charges these all atonce, releasing them, and then that produces apretty hefty stacked charge that can really mess up a fish. But if the eels are being shocked, they're obviously not beingshocked as much as their prey is and that could have somethingto do with insulating tissue, the preference for the electricshocks to go into the water rather than into flesh, and maybe the shortduration of the shocks. Whatever it is, evolution hasprepared these electric eels for a certain kind of shock butnot theoretically all shocks kind of like we're assumingThor to be immune or not. So in theory, you could stillelectrocute an electric eel, but don't try it because ethics. I said, don't, I'm not gonna try it.

I said, I'm just gonnaslowly walk out here. Oh you slimy beast. And if you think aboutwho initially shocks Thor in Thor: Ragnarok, thingsmake even more sense. It is none other than a Valkyrie who puts a shock collaron the son of Odin, and she would know his weaknesses, his physiology, who he was. So Thor might be immune to lightning, but not to a Valkyriewith inside knowledge of how Asgardians work and a space Taser that is high frequency, low voltage and specifically designed to shock big ol' beef muscles into submission. Wow, that thing reallymakes you Valhalla, huh? Sorry, I love puns. So, why isn't Thor immune to electricity? Well, if we combine MCUcanon with a bit of physics, we find a situationwhere Thor can be immune to some kinds of electrical discharges like lightning with a supedup Asgardian skin effect but not others like a lowfrequency space Taser. I know this is all gettingkind of complicated, but at least Thor'selectric susceptibilities are easier to understandthan the Endgame timeline.

Because Science. - And here's your hammer back. - Thanks? What? There is a weird problem if you are immune to lightning strike but you want to be a bigol' glistening MCU beef boy, is that if you have a lot of moisture on the outside of your body, say you were standing in the rain and you're hit by adirect lightning strike, we know that all of the moistureon the outside of your body can flash to steam andblow your clothes off and cause a lot of damage andjust be otherwise very bad. So, since Thor and everybeef boy in the MCU is always glistening, oiled up muscles, a lot of moisture on it, maybein the rain looking all cool, if then he summoned his lightning powers, it would blow his clothes off, which.

Thank you so much for watching, Glen. If you want more of me, Because Science, or you want to suggestideas for future episodes, you can follow us here atthese social media handles and go watch the first fewepisodes of Because Space and go watch the Science of Mortal Kombat and have a great rest of your day. 

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