Short circuit



A short circuit (sometimes abbreviated to short or s/c) is an electrical circuit that allows a current to travel along an unintended path with no or very low electrical impedance. This results in an excessive current flowing through the circuit. The opposite of a short circuit is an "open circuit", which is an infinite resistance between two nodes. It is common to misuse "short circuit" to describe any electrical malfunction, regardless of the actual problem.
A short circuit is an abnormal connection between two nodes of an electric circuit intended to be at different voltages. This results in an electric current limited only by the Thevenin equivalent resistance of the rest of the network which can cause circuit damage, overheating, fire or explosion. Although usually the result of a fault, there are cases where short circuits are caused intentionally, for example, for the purpose of voltage-sensing crowbar circuit protectors.
In circuit analysis, a short circuit is defined as a connection between two nodes that forces them to be at the same voltage. In an 'ideal' short circuit, this means there is no resistance and thus no voltage drop across the connection. In real circuits, the result is a connection with almost no resistance. In such a case, the current is limited only by the resistance of the rest of the circuit.
A high current flowing through a battery can cause a rapid increase of temperature, potentially resulting in an explosion with the release of hydrogen gas and electrolyte (an acid or a base), which can burn tissue and cause blindness or even death. Overloaded wires will also overheat causing damage to the wire's insulation, or starting a fire. High current conditions may also occur with electric motor loads under stalled conditions, such as when the impeller of an electrically driven pump is jammed by debris; this is not a short, though it may have some similar effects.
In mains circuits, short circuits may occur between two phases, between a phase and neutral or between a phase and earth (ground). Such short circuits are likely to result in a very high current and therefore quickly trigger an overcurrent protection device. However, it is possible for short circuits to arise between neutral and earth conductors, and between two conductors of the same phase. Such short circuits can be dangerous, particularly as they may not immediately result in a large current and are therefore less likely to be detected. Possible effects include unexpected energisation of a circuit presumed to be isolated. To help reduce the negative effects of short circuits, power distribution transformers are deliberately designed to have a certain amount of leakage reactance. The leakage reactance (usually about 5 to 10% of the full load impedance) helps limit both the magnitude and rate of rise of the fault current.
A short circuit fault current can, within milliseconds, be thousands of times larger than the normal operating current of the system. Damage from short circuits can be reduced or prevented by employing fuses, circuit breakers, or other overload protection, which disconnect the power in reaction to excessive current. Overload protection must be chosen according to the current rating of the circuit. Circuits for large home appliances require protective devices set or rated for higher currents than lighting circuits. Wire gauges specified in building and electrical codes are chosen to ensure safe operation in conjunction with the overload protection. An overcurrent protection device must be rated to safely interrupt the maximum prospective short-circuit current.
In electronics, the ideal model (infinite gain) of an operational amplifier is said to produce a virtual short circuit between its input terminals because no matter what the output voltage is, the difference of potential between its input terminals is zero. If one of the input terminals is connected to the ground, then the other one is said to provide a virtual ground because its potential is (ideally) identical to that of the ground. An ideal operational amplifier also has infinite input impedance, so unlike a real short circuit, no current flows between the terminals of the virtual short.