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Consider an arbitrary electrostatic field configuration. A small test charge is placed at a null point (i.e., where E = 0) of the configuration. Show that the equilibrium of the test charge is necessarily unstable.

1 Answer

Prove it by contradiction. Suppose the equilibrium is stable; then the test charge displaced slightly in any direction will experience a restoring force towards the null-point.
That is, all field lines near the null point should be directed inwards towards the null-point. That is, there is a net inward flux of electric field through a closed surface around the null-point. But by Gauss’s law, the flux of electric field through a surface, not enclosing any charge, must be zero. Hence, the equilibrium cannot be stable.
answered Jun 4, 2014 by meena.p
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