# 18.6 Electric field lines: multiple charges  (Page 3/8)

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[link] shows how the electric field from two point charges can be drawn by finding the total field at representative points and drawing electric field lines consistent with those points. While the electric fields from multiple charges are more complex than those of single charges, some simple features are easily noticed.

For example, the field is weaker between like charges, as shown by the lines being farther apart in that region. (This is because the fields from each charge exert opposing forces on any charge placed between them.) (See [link] and [link] (a).) Furthermore, at a great distance from two like charges, the field becomes identical to the field from a single, larger charge.

[link] (b) shows the electric field of two unlike charges.

## Making connections: electric dipole

As the two unlike charges are also equal in magnitude, the pair of charges is also known as an electric dipole.

The field is stronger between the charges. In that region, the fields from each charge are in the same direction, and so their strengths add. The field of two unlike charges is weak at large distances, because the fields of the individual charges are in opposite directions and so their strengths subtract. At very large distances, the field of two unlike charges looks like that of a smaller single charge.

We use electric field lines to visualize and analyze electric fields (the lines are a pictorial tool, not a physical entity in themselves). The properties of electric field lines for any charge distribution can be summarized as follows:

1. Field lines must begin on positive charges and terminate on negative charges, or at infinity in the hypothetical case of isolated charges.
2. The number of field lines leaving a positive charge or entering a negative charge is proportional to the magnitude of the charge.
3. The strength of the field is proportional to the closeness of the field lines—more precisely, it is proportional to the number of lines per unit area perpendicular to the lines.
4. The direction of the electric field is tangent to the field line at any point in space.
5. Field lines can never cross.

The last property means that the field is unique at any point. The field line represents the direction of the field; so if they crossed, the field would have two directions at that location (an impossibility if the field is unique).

## Phet explorations: charges and fields

Move point charges around on the playing field and then view the electric field, voltages, equipotential lines, and more. It's colorful, it's dynamic, it's free.

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