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Earth Has Not One but Two Heartbeats, Here's What We Know about it

News18.com

Last Updated: June 09, 2020, 18:30 IST

Image for representation.

Image for representation.

Electrified clouds which do not create lightning do share the burden equal to that of lightning.

Did you know an electric current flows from the sky to the surface of the earth even on cloudless days? The difference between Earth's electrical potential and that of the ionosphere makes it a crucial component of the global electrical circuit (GEC), which connects many electrical processes in the atmosphere.

Electrified clouds which do not create lightning do share the burden equal to that of lightning. Dust, pollutants and other particles in the lower troposphere also play a role in the GEC, as does the changing of the seasons, says a report in the eos.org.

“You’re looking at the total integrated effects of all the electrified weather across the globe,” the journal quoted Michael Peterson, a staff scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico as saying. “People have described it as the electrical heartbeat of the planet.”

The researchers are going in the details of of GEC to understand the role of everything from layer clouds to the Sun’s magnetic cycle, and looking at incorporating the electrical circuit into global climate models. “Research on some questions was getting a bit stalled, but now we can use new technology, new methods, and new instruments to push it forward,” the journal quoted R Giles Harrison, a professor of atmospheric physics at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.

The Earth has two electrical heartbeats, a direct current (DC) circuit operating continuously across the planet, and an alternating current (AC) circuit,which is driven exclusively by lightning, which creates electromagnetic waves that circle the planet.

In 1920, Scottish physicist CTR Wilson proposed the GEC (DC version). He proposed that Earth’s surface and the base of the ionosphere formed the conductive shells of a spherical capacitor. The air served as a “leaky” insulator, allowing electric current to flow between the nested shells. Thunderstorms, Wilson wrote, served as the primary generator for this system. Electrified shower clouds, which maintain an electric charge but produce no lightning, also contributed to the circuit.

Wilson’s basic model of the DC circuit has been verified by observations over the past century, which have filled in some of the details of how it works.
first published:June 09, 2020, 18:30 IST
last updated:June 09, 2020, 18:30 IST