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June 20, 2009

Sparks on the Red Planet

Where I live near Denver Colorado, it has been raining every afternoon all summer (which is really weird for here). With these rain storms we have also had our fair share of lightning. Lightning here on Earth is cool, but it's even cooler on Mars. That's right, researchers from the University of Michigan have found the first evidence for lightning on Mars.

Here on Earth, we associate lightning with rain. On Mars, there is almost no water, and what water is there is frozen in the polar regions. The lightning found on Mars does not form in rain clouds, but dust clouds. We don't have a very good understanding of how lightning forms here on Earth, and even less of a understanding of how it works in these dust clouds on Mars.

Mars is an amazing world and like everything in our universe, continues to defy what we think is possible. It was just three years ago a group of scientists said that there was probably no lightning on Mars. Maybe studying this Martian lightning will help us better understand how lightning here on our own world works. Maybe Spirit can image some of this lightning on its overnight viewing session (unlikely though).