Cathode ray

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Cathode rays (also called an electron beam or e-beam) are streams of electrons observed in vacuum tubes, i.e. evacuated glass tubes that are equipped with at least two metal electrodes to which a voltage is applied, a cathode or negative electrode and an anode or positive electrode. They were first observed in 1869 by German physicist Johann Hittorf, and were named in 1876 by Eugen Goldstein kathodenstrahlen, or cathode rays. Electrons were first discovered as the constituents of cathode rays. In 1897 British physicist J. J. Thomson showed the rays were composed of a previously unknown negatively charged particle, which was later named the electron. Cathode ray tubes (CRTs) create the image in a classic television set.

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Description

Cathode rays are so named because they are emitted by the negative electrode, or cathode, in a vacuum tube. To release electrons into the tube, they first must be detached from the atoms of the cathode. In the early cold cathode vacuum tubes, called Crookes tubes, this was done by using a high electrical potential between the anode and the cathode to ionize the residual gas in the tube; the ions were accelerated by the electric field and released electrons when they collided with the cathode. Modern vacuum tubes use thermionic emission, in which the cathode is made of a thin wire filament which is heated by a separate electric current passing through it. The increased random heat motion of the filament atoms knocks electrons out of the atoms at the surface of the filament, into the evacuated space of the tube.

Since the electrons have a negative charge, they are repelled by the cathode and attracted to the anode. They travel in straight lines through the empty tube. The voltage applied between the electrodes accelerates these low mass particles to high velocities. Cathode rays are invisible, but their presence was first detected in early vacuum tubes when they struck the glass wall of the tube, exciting the atoms of the glass and causing them to emit light, a glow called fluorescence. Researchers noticed that objects placed in the tube in front of the cathode could cast a shadow on the glowing wall, and realized that something must be travelling in straight lines from the cathode. After the electrons reach the anode, they travel through the anode wire to the power supply and back to the cathode, so cathode rays carry electric current through the tube.

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