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Evidence found of lightning on Mars

June 17, 2009 at 11:50 AM   |   Comments

ANN ARBOR, Mich., June 17 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say they have detected the first direct evidence of lightning occurring on Mars.

University of Michigan researchers said they found signs of electrical discharges during dust storms on the red planet. The bolts were dry lightning, Professor Chris Ruf said.

"What we saw on Mars was a series of huge and sudden electrical discharges caused by a large dust storm," Ruf said. "Clearly, there was no rain associated with the electrical discharges on Mars. However, the implied possibilities are exciting."

Electric activity in Martian dust storms has important implications for Mars science, the researchers said.

"It affects atmospheric chemistry, habitability and preparations for human exploration. It might even have implications for the origin of life, as suggested by experiments in the 1950s," said Professor Nilton Renno of the university's Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences.

"Mars continues to amaze us," said Michael Sanders, manager of exploration systems and technology at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a researcher involved in the study. "Every new look at the planet gives us new insights."

The new findings are to appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

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