- The spacecraft Mariner 9 was the first probe to orbit
the planet Mars. As it arrived at the Red Planet in 1971, NASA scientists
were shocked by the view -- the most horrific dust storm they had ever
seen. The entire planet was engulfed in a deep haze, with only the peak
of gigantic Olympus Mons penetrating through the clouds.
- For several decades, the energetic dust storms on Mars
have posed unanswered questions for meteorologists. How can an atmosphere
only one percent as dense as Earth's remove dust from the soil and accelerate
it into massive clouds circling the planet up to 40 miles or more above
- In late June, 2001, the Hubble Telescope revealed the
first stirrings of a dust storm in a small region of the Hellas Basin on
Mars. For several days the storm alternately grew, then retreated. Then
it exploded and quickly boiled out of the Hellas Basin, spreading both
north and east. Within a few weeks it had covered the whole planet, as
- It was the greatest dust storm ever observed on Mars,
and it did not begin to subside until October. Meteorologists were left
scratching their heads. How was the dust excavated from the surface? What
held the dust aloft? What accelerated the winds and dust across the near
vacuum of Mars' upper atmosphere to speeds greater than 250 miles per hour?
- With its Thermal Emission Spectrometer (TES), the orbiting
Mars Global Surveyor measured thermal effects associated with the storm.
As the storm clouds began to surround Mars, temperatures rose a stunning
40 degrees C -- a case of "instantaneous global warming" that
continues to haunt meteorologists.
- Phil Christensen of Arizona State University, one of
the principal investigators of the Martian phenomenon, acknowledges that
the specialists do not really know, in "detail", the causes of
the Martian dust storms. Some have theorized that as Martian dust clouds
grow thicker, they absorb more warmth from the Sun, raising the temperature
of the atmosphere -- "a positive feedback loop that can transform
tiny dust clouds into globe-swallowing storms", as one science writer
put it. With this reasoning one might wonder why the dust storms ever stop.
Indeed, those following this reasoning are not sure why they DO stop. ("In
fact, we're not certain what makes them stop", states Christensen.)
- Most "explanations" of the dust storms begin
with radiant energy from the Sun. It is known that the storms are most
frequent and severe when Mars is near perihelion (its closest approach
to the Sun). So the specialists believe that thermal effects of solar radiation
must provide the energy of the storms. But this rationale requires an effect
considerably more energetic than the cause. Mars' orbit has an eccentricity
of 0.093. Although greater than the Earth's orbital eccentricity of 0.017,
at Mars' distance from the Sun the change has little more than a trivial
influence on radiant energy input. In fact, if thermal effects are the
cause, then seasonal orientation of the planet's axis should contribute
much more to dust storms -- with clear hemispheric differentiation. This
is not the case, however.
- But in the Electric Universe, interplanetary currents
focused on the Sun play a vital role in charging up planetary ionospheres
-- a key to understanding the evolution of weather systems. Electric theorist
Wallace Thornhill likens the Earth's atmosphere to the "self repairing,
leaky insulation" between the conductive plates of a global capacitor.
The conducting ionosphere forms one plate of the spherical capacitor, while
the Earth's surface is the other. Lightning manifests the "leakiness"
of the capacitor, as currents break through the insulating atmosphere to
- The clear-air voltage gradient of Earth at sea level
is about 100 volts per meter. In standard meteorology, it is the electric
power of THUNDERSTORMS that "charge-up the ionosphere". But the
electric theorists see this as an inversion of cause and effect. There
would be no thunderstorms in the absence of Earth's electric field.
- Since Mars has no thunderstorms to "charge-up its
ionosphere," it should present a good case study of the Electric Universe.
The electrical model predicts that the Martian ionosphere is indeed charged,
and it posits no isolated dynamo to "separate charge." On Mars,
electrical effects will reach directly from the ionosphere to the surface
without the ameliorating leakage via storm clouds that we see on Earth.
Unlike radiant energy from the Sun, electrical energy can accumulate in
the "planetary capacitor" for some time, with a potential for
planet-altering events when the atmosphere finally "breaks down"
and massive discharge activity is initiated.
- There is also another aspect to the interplanetary circuitry
affecting Mars. The greatest storm on Mars (2001) occurred when the planet
was nearing perihelion AND was the closest it had been to Earth in about
12 years. At that time it was also being "tickled" by the Earth's
plasma sheath, or magnetosphere, establishing a temporary electrical connection
between Earth and Mars for the transfer of charge. It seems that Mars
responded with an outburst of atmospheric discharges, these taking the
form of monstrous dust devils -- or more accurately, electrical TORNADOES.
- At the same time, the electric currents flowing in the
Martian ionosphere will drive the high-speed winds in the upper atmosphere.
- In the two Martian dust storm images above, it appears
that the dust is being jetted upwards rather than being blown along the
surface. This is explicable in the electric tornado model and explains
how dust is raised efficiently many kilometers into the thin air and suspended
for a time electrostatically. The role of violent vortices on the leading
edge of dust storms is particularly clear in the image below.
- The twisting columns on the leading edge of the storm
suggest vertical movement that is inconceivable in an electrically inert
near-vacuum. Perhaps the closest analog to these columns is the network
of twisted filaments -- electric tornadoes, according to Thornhill -- seen
most clearly as they explode from beneath the Sun's photosphere on the
margins of sunspots. (Picture Below) This similarity is, according to Electric
Universe proponents, only to be expected: The Sun is a glow discharge,
and its photosphere shows the twisted rope-like filaments of "anode
tufting" (the tufting of a discharge from a positively charged electrode).
- Electric Universe theorists identify the dust storms
on Mars as electric discharges etching the surface in the same way that,
in industrial applications, electric discharge machining etches metallic
surfaces. Closer examination should show that these tornadoes reflect the
behavior of electric arcs or "St Elmo's Fire", exploding preferentially
from high points and the sharp edges of craters or escarpments.
- Though the Martian tornadoes and dust storms lack the
power of the electric arcs that (according to the electric theorists) carved
planetary surfaces in a former epoch, they can certainly leave their signature
on the Martian surface today. In space, another good analog would be the
newly forming dust jets of comets, when they begin to electrically etch
the surface of the nucleus as it enters more deeply into the Sun's electric
- A complement to the present article will be found at
the Thunderbolts.info "Picture of the Day" for March 21 -- "Electric
Dust Devils on Mars" --