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In this paper, we review the state of the art in studying the physical processes that occur in the cathode spots of vacuum arcs. The now available experimental data are interpreted in the context of the ecton mechanism of the operation of vacuum arc cathode spots. Central in this mechanism is the explosive electron emission, a phenomenon discovered by the author and his co-workers in the mid-1960s while studying high-voltage pulsed vacuum breakdown. In the light of the ecton mechanism, the cathode spot of a vacuum arc consists of individual cells which are explosive emission sites each emitting a portion of electrons termed an ecton. The cathode spot processes are cyclic in nature due to the finiteness of the ecton lifetime. It is shown that an arc is self-sustained due to the explosive emission processes initiated on the interaction of the cathode plasma either with nonmetal inclusions present in the cathode surface (first-type spots) or with liquid metal jets ejected from the zone of an active cathode spot (second-type spots). Attention is focused on the physical processes occurring during the operation of a cathode spot cell. A statistical model of a vacuum arc is used to interpret the effect of the spontaneous extinction of an arc. It is shown that an increase in the arc current is accompanied by a slight increase in the number of simultaneously operating ectons; therefore, as observed in the experiments, the parameters of a vacuum do not greatly depend on the current up to the kiloampere level.