Encyclopedia of Astrobiology

2011 Edition
| Editors: Muriel Gargaud, Ricardo Amils, José Cernicharo Quintanilla, Henderson James (Jim) CleavesII, William M. Irvine, Daniele L. Pinti, Michel Viso

Electric Discharge

  • Jeffrey BadaEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-11274-4_490



An electric discharge is the release and transmission of electricity in an applied electric field through a medium such as a gas. Several types of electric discharges occur naturally on Earth (American Geophysical Union,  1986):
  1. 1.

    Atmospheric lightning, which is thought to be caused by the frictional generation, and separation, of positive and negative charges on ice and dust particles. As the charge on these particles builds up, the result is the often-spectacular discharge of electricity known as lightning. On average, there are 50–100 lightning strikes per second on Earth with most of the activity taking place in equatorial and northern latitudinal regions.

  2. 2.

    Corona discharges, which are caused by an electrical discharge produced by the ionization of the surrounding atmosphere, generating a luminous plasma (sometime referred to as St. Elmo’s fire, a term used by sailors to describe the glow observed at the top of a ship’s mast during...

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References and Further Reading

  1. American Geophysical Union, National Research Council (U.S.). Geophysics Study Committee (1986) The earth’s electrical environment. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, pp 263Google Scholar
  2. Aplin KL (2006) Atmospheric electrification in the solar system. Surv Geophys 27:63–108ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cleaves HJ, Chalmers JH, Lazcano A, Miller SL, Bada JL (2008) A reassessment of prebiotic organic synthesis in neutral planetary atmospheres. Orig Life Evol Biosph 38:105–115ADSCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Scripps Institution of OceanographyLa JollaUSA