Space Science Reviews

, Volume 137, Issue 1–4, pp 11–27

Investigating Earth’s Atmospheric Electricity: a Role Model for Planetary Studies



The historical development of terrestrial atmospheric electricity is described, from its beginnings with the first observations of the potential gradient to the global electric circuit model proposed by C.T.R. Wilson in the early 20th century. The properties of the terrestrial global circuit are summarised. Concepts originally needed to develop the idea of a global circuit are identified as “central tenets”, for example, the importance of radio science in establishing the conducting upper layer. The central tenets are distinguished from additional findings that merely corroborate, or are explained by, the global circuit model. Using this analysis it is possible to specify which observations are preferable for detecting global circuits in extraterrestrial atmospheres. Schumann resonances, the extremely low frequency signals generated by excitation of the surface-ionosphere cavity by electrical discharges, are identified as the most useful single measurement of electrical activity in a planetary atmosphere.


Atmospheric electricity Lightning History of science Comparative planetology Planetary atmospheres 


92.60.Pw 01.65.+g 96.30.Bc 96.15.Hy 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • K. L. Aplin
    • 1
  • R. G. Harrison
    • 2
  • M. J. Rycroft
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Space Science and Technology DepartmentRutherford Appleton LaboratoryOxonUK
  2. 2.Department of MeteorologyUniversity of ReadingReading BerkshireUK
  3. 3.International Space UniversityIlkirch-GraffenstadenFrance
  4. 4.CAESAR ConsultancyCambridgeUK

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