Lightning generation in planetary atmospheres

Zev Levin*, William J. Borucki, Owen B. Toon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


The possibilities of lightning generation on other planets are considered, and the basic conditions that exist in terrestrial clouds during lightning discharges and the various theories of charge separation are reviewed. Recent measurements of cloud structure and whistlers, as well as optical observation of lightning on Jupiter, suggest that charge separation and lightning discharges occur on other planets in ways similar to those in which they occur on Earth. Using these terrestrial ideas, it is concluded that lightning on Venus will probably be found in clouds that are located in regions of convection such as those observed downwind of the subsolar point. It is also possible that if volcanoes on Venus are erupting, they too can produce lightning discharges in their plumes although it seems unlikely that this process can account for the observed rate of discharge. Jovian lightning is most probably generated in the lower water-ice clouds. These clouds are of moderate temperatures and have strong convection and large mass loading, all important ingredients for electrical buildup. Lightning is all but ruled out for Mars, even though some electrification is possible owing to the large dust storms on that planet.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)80-115
Number of pages36
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 1983
Externally publishedYes


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