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The characteristic time is an estimate of the order of magnitude of the reaction time scale of a system. It can loosely be defined as the inverse of the reaction rate. In chemistry, the characteristic time is used to determine whether the problem needs to be solved as an equilibrium problem or a kinetic problem.
- For RC circuits, the characteristic time is the time the capacitor takes to discharge by 1/e (approximately 63%) of the way to the final voltage.
- In various fields of physics and astrophysics, the characteristic or relaxation time refers to the time needed for a system to relax under external stimuli.
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