- 1:an abnormal low-resistance connection between two nodes of an electrical circuit intended to be at different voltages. This results in an excessive electric current (overcurrent) limited only by the Thévenin equivalent resistance of the rest of the network and potentially causes 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.
A short circuit (sometimes abbreviated to short or s/c) is an electrical circuit that allows a current to travel along an unintended path, often where essentially no (or a very low) electrical impedance is encountered. The electrical 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 common type of short circuit occurs when the positive and negative terminals of a battery are connected with a low-resistance conductor, like a wire. With low resistance in the connection, a high current exists, causing the cell to deliver a large amount of energy in a short time.
A large current through a battery can cause the rapid buildup of heat, potentially resulting in an explosion or the release of hydrogen gas and electrolyte (an acid or a base), which can burn tissue, cause blindness or even death. Overloaded wires can also overheat, sometimes causing damage to the wire's insulation, or 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 electrical devices, unintentional short circuits are usually caused when a wire's insulation breaks down, or when another conducting material is introduced, allowing charge to flow along a different path than the one intended.
A short circuit may lead to formation of an arc. The arc, a channel of hot ionized plasma, is highly conductive and can persist even after significant amount of original material of the conductors was evaporated. Surface erosion is a typical sign of electric arc damage. Even short arcs can remove significant amount of materials from the electrodes.