Zigismunda formosa (melannen) wrote in little_details,
Zigismunda formosa
melannen
little_details

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air-earth electric currents and St. Elmo's Fire

My story has just informed me that part of it is set on a planet whose most exceptional feature is that it has a very strong natural electrical field/ground-to-astmosphere current. Strong enough that flourescent lights don't need an external power source and nights of St. Elmo's Fire are as common as rainy ones.

Yeah. I'm usually very good with Earth science, but I still get watts and volts confused half the time, and when they start talking about webers and teslas I end up rocking back and forth and moaning "math is hard!" SO I appeal to you people. The St. Elmo's Fire and the (at least marginal) habitability (even if only over a few hundred square miles) are required; anything else is negotiable.

1. St. Elmo's Fire usually occurs in thunderstorms where the earth is positive and the atmosphere is negative. The normal air-earth current is the opposite. Could corona discharge occur if the normal current was strong enough, or does it require negative-to-positive ground-to-air? And either way, just how strong would it have to be? And how hard would it be for me to reverse the normal current if I had to? - I can play with atmospheric and lithospheric composition if necessary.

2. Given this, what might other planetary conditions be like? A vague memory is telling me that high winds would be a good idea. Dry air? Lots of mountains? Short day and extreme seasons? Very strong magnetic field too, or not necessarily? Could I get away with *not* having lightning strikes be particularly common, or would they have to be? Would the charge be predictably variable, spatially or temporally? Lots of solar wind and auroras? What else might be reasonable?

3. How would this affect the colony? Searches of the health effects of large electric fields gives me a lot of medical info of the sort I find hard to trust, but the buildings would probably be faraday cages anyway, for the protection of their technology. I'm more interested on the effects on Earth crops, and native life. And what would it feel/smell/sound/look etc. like to step out into? Static electricity? Weird creepy paraniod feelings? Personal experiences welcome.

4. Is it at all reasonable that they can supply their day-to-day electric power needs just by flying "kites" or using "Earth batteries"? And how *would* this effect technology? I think most radio would be right out, but how about magnetic compasses? Unshielded transistor-based technology? Would it effect the lifespan of metals? Lightning rods: good or bad idea? How would it shape architecture?

Anything else you can think of would also be cool. And references that would be useful to someone who isn't sure of the difference between ohms and amperes, and any SF that uses a similar idea.

Oh, and anyone is welcome to suggest a better name for the colony than my current working one, which is, regrettably, "St. Elmo's World". (This counts as a "little detail" because only about one or two scenes are actually set on this planet. Writing hard sf is *hard*, man.)
Tags: ~science: astronomy, ~science: physics
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