The authors argue that the physics of unipolar arcs and surface cracks can help understand rf breakdown and vacuum arc data. They outline a model of the basic mechanisms involved in breakdown and explore how the physics of unipolar arcs and cracks can simplify the picture of breakdown and gradient limits in accelerators, tokamaks as well as laser ablation, micrometeorites, and other applications. Cracks are commonly seen in SEM images of arc damage and they are produced as the liquid metal cools. They can produce the required field enhancements to explain field emission data and can produce mechanical failure of the surface that would trigger breakdown events. Unipolar arcs can produce currents sufficient to short out rf structures, and can cause the sort of damage seen in SEM images. They should be unstable, and possibly self-quenching, as seen in optical fluctuations and surface damage. The authors describe some details and consider the predictions of this simple model.

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