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Lightning in Exotic Superheated Atmospheres

3 May 2014, 22:00 UTC
Lightning in Exotic Superheated Atmospheres
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In the Solar System, lightning activity is present on all planets that have clouds in their atmospheres. With the sheer number and diversity of exoplanets discovered in recent years, it is worth considering if lightning activity is also present on these worlds. A study by Christiane Helling et al. (2012) examined the possibility of lightning being present in the exotic superheated atmospheres of hot-Jupiters and brown dwarfs. Hot-Jupiters are giant gaseous planets that orbit very close to their host stars, while brown dwarfs are objects that bridge the gap between the most massive planets and the least massive stars.Figure 1: Artist’s impression of a brown dwarf.Both hot-Jupiters and brown dwarfs (provided the brown dwarf has not cooled sufficiently) have atmospheric temperatures that are much higher than on Earth or on Jupiter. Temperatures in these atmospheres can reach thousands of degrees Kelvin. Such temperatures are too hot for water to exist outside the vapour phase, thereby ruling out the moist thundercloud charging process that is responsible for generating lightning here on Earth, and on the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn. Nevertheless, the superheated atmospheres of hot-Jupiters and brown dwarfs are dominated by mineral clouds, consisting of a number of mineral species ...

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