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alternating current (AC)

Flow of electric charge that reverses periodically, unlike direct current.

It starts from zero, grows to a maximum, decreases to zero, reverses, reaches a maximum in the opposite direction, returns again to zero, and repeats the cycle indefinitely. The time taken to complete one cycle is called the period (see periodic motion), and the number of cycles per second is the frequency; the maximum value in either direction is the current's amplitude. Low frequencies (50–60 cycles per second) are used for domestic and commercial power, but frequencies of around 100 million cycles per second (100 megahertz) are used in television and of several thousand megahertz in radar and microwave communication. A major advantage of alternating current is that the voltage can be increased and decreased by a transformer for more efficient transmission over long distances. Direct current cannot use transformers to change voltage. See also electric current.

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Universalium. 2010.

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