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The instabilities of 50-Hz low-current vacuum arcs and chopping phenomena were investigated in a test circuit where current was limited either by a resistor or an inductance. Employing a special test method which was developed for statistical evaluation, current zeros were measured oscillographically with a time sweep of 50 to 100 ns/div for durations of Â¿ 60 div. The effects observed are quantitatively better to assess than with other techniques. It was found that each chopping process is initiated by a partial arc extinction (which as a rule occurs within less than 10 ns). One of the dominant factors of the whole process is the speed of recovery of the contact material. Copper contacts showed a much faster recovery and thus higher chopping currents than contacts of copper-tungsten. Furthermore, that current value at which the first instability occurs was measured as weli as the corresponding chopping current. Both values were evaluated statistically. In agreement with previous findings the occurrence of the first instability turned out to be independent of the capacitance parallel to the switching gap. However, the chopping current showed a significant dependence on the capacitance, as is well known from earlier investigations.