Martian dust storms can generate lightning

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Washington, August 9 (ANI): Scientists, using a new detector, have for the first time observed evidence that Martian dust storms can generate lightning.

Dust storms on Earth build up an electric field as dust particles collide, and then emit lightning as the electric field discharges.

Some previous evidence suggested that Martian dust storms might also generate lightning in this manner, but the phenomenon had not been directly observed.

To observe evidence of lightning on Mars, Christopher Ruf and his team from the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, University of Michigan, US, used a new detector that is able to distinguish nonthermal microwave radiation, which indicates a large electric discharge, from ordinary thermal radiation.

The instrument, installed in the 34-meter (111.55-feet) radio telescope of the Deep Space Network, made measurements from 22 May to 16 June 2006.

The research team detected nonthermal microwave emission in bursts several minutes long during a period of about 3 hours that coincided with a large dust storm on June 8, 2006.

On the basis of the spectrum of this radiation, the researchers concluded that the radiation was probably excited by lightning in the Martian dust storm.

According to them, the discovery of electrical activity in Martian dust storms has implications for atmospheric chemistry, habitability, and preparations for human exploration. (ANI)

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