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Lightning Strikes May Help Explain Origins of Solar System

A lightning is pictured over Lahore City during a thunder storm that was followed with heavy rain on April 13, 2012. AFP PHOTO/ ARIF ALI (Photo credit should read Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

Photo by Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images

Those bolts of lightning during a thunderstorm may do more than just light up the night sky and scare the bejeebers out of the dog, they could help us understand the origins of our solar system.

The incessant flashes of lightning here on Earth—some 50 blasts around the globe each second—cause a pulse of electromagnetic waves known as the Schumann Resonance. The signature of this rhythm can reveal not only the size of the planet, but the chemical composition of its atmosphere, better than other known techniques.

And now with the discovery of a way to measure the Schumann Resonance from above our planet rather than on its surface, a paper published this week in the Astrophysical Journal describes how orbiting spacecraft could be used to find the pulse on neighboring planets. By studying this collected data, researchers may be able to discover more about the birth of our solar system and the makeup of its original nebula.

You might say this discovery was, literally, a bolt from the blue.