Lightning Cosmogony

Credit: “The rate of dielectric breakdown weathering of lunar regolith in permanently shadowed regions” Author: A.P. Jordan,T.J. Stubbs,J.K. Wilson,N.A. Schwadron,H.E. Spence. Publication: Icarus. Publisher:  lsevier. Date: February 2017.

Dec 11, 2019

The Solar System is home to many devastated planets and moons.

Most of the Sun’s family of rocky bodies are heavily cratered. For instance, a bright rayed structure covers almost an entire hemisphere of Saturn’s moon Rhea. It is similar to formations found on the Moon or on Mercury. Astronomers think that some kind of impact hurled subsurface debris outward in long ejecta blankets. Bright surface rays around Kuiper crater on Mercury exhibit smaller craters mixed-in with the shallow streamers. Tiny craters around Tycho crater on Earth’s Moon are also said to be “secondary impacts” formed when chunks of regolith were thrown-out from the initial impact. However, previous Picture of the Day articles note that rayed formations are more likely to be the result of electric arcs.

Mercury, like Rhea, has no atmosphere and no magnetic field to shield it from the Sun, so it seems reasonable to describe it using terminology applied to the Moon. If the craters and rays so prominent there can be explained by electrical activity, then Mercury’s features, along with those on Rhea, might also benefit from an electrical hypothesis.

Electric Universe pioneer, Ralph Juergens, took issue with how lunar cratering events can occur:

“….not only the presence of the secondary craters in connection with ‘each ray element,’ but their placement always ‘at the near end,’ poses a problem for the ejection hypothesis. Is it conceivable that larger objects randomly mixed with fines in ejecta streams would always manage to drop to the surface just at the inner ends of fallout patterns produced by the fines? The strange proportions of Tycho’s long rays seem all-but-impossible to reconcile with ejection origins. Enormous velocities of ejection must be postulated to explain the lengths of the rays, yet the energetic processes responsible for such velocities must be imagined to be focused very precisely to account for the ribbon thin appearance of the rays.”

Juergens thought that the hard, radar-reflective floor of Tycho indicates kinetic forces from mechanical impact are not a good theory for its formation. Tycho’s rays, rather than being “fall-back ejecta” are the paths that electrons took when the secondary discharge erupted into space, completing a circuit with a lighting leader stroke. Based on the concept, rays around craters are not ejected material, but are caused by charged particles rushing toward the center, dragging dust along with them.

Getting back to Rhea, around one of its large craters, the rays are not deep, but instead appear to be a thin layer of dust, like on the Moon. They were probably deposited by an “ionic wind” as plasma arcs reduced the surface rocks to fine powder, and then blew them away as ionized particles. These are only a few out of many such huge structures that indicate Rhea did not undergo a slow, steady formation out of a nebular cloud.

Phobos, a moon of Mars, is about the same size as asteroids Mathilde, Eros and Ida, revealing features like the relatively gigantic craters that are endemic to those bodies. What is the common event that creates such similar structures without obliterating the objects in the first place? The answer is electricity.

In previous Pictures of the Day about Mars, scenarios for how it was devastated by electric arcs in the recent past were presented. Those events gouged-out Valles Marineris, Olympus Mons and Arabia Terra in a relatively short period, ejecting gigatons of rock from the planet. Could it be that Phobos and Deimos are remnants of that overwhelming cataclysm?

The thunderbolts that carved up Mars threw big chunks of its crust into orbit, as well as into long ellipses around the Sun. They were smoothed and eroded by the arcs while accelerating through the planet’s electric fields. Touchdown points where the electric discharges were most intense became deeply incised craters. That is why Phobos and the asteroids mentioned are covered in dust, have little or no large boulders, and are defined by huge craters that look like they are half-melted.

Recently, NASA announced that the OSIRIS-Rex Mission, circling asteroid Bennu, detected pebbles and other smaller particles that seemed to be ejected from the asteroid. The reasons for the events are mysterious, suggesting that micro-meteors are bombarding the asteroid, or that water vapor is escaping from hidden pockets. As the observations above conclude, however, the electric force ought to be included in any theoretical analysis.

Stephen Smith

The Thunderbolts Picture of the Day is generously supported by the Mainwaring Archive Foundation.

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