Every second, lightning flashes some 50 times on Earth. Together these discharges coalesce and get stronger, creating electromagnetic waves circling around Earth, to create a beating pulse between the ground and the lower ionosphere, about 60 miles up in the atmosphere. This electromagnetic signature, known as Schumann Resonance, had only been observed from Earth’s surface until, in 2011, scientists discovered they could also detect it using NASA’s Vector Electric Field Instrument (VEFI) aboard the U.S. Air Force’s Communications/Navigation Outage Forecast System (C/NOFS) satellite.
The Astrophysical Journal, - researchers describe how this new technique could be used to study other planets in the solar system as well, and even shed light on how the solar system formed.
“The frequency of Schumann Resonance depends not only on the size of the planet but on what kinds of atoms and molecules exist in the atmosphere because they change the electrical conductivity,” says Fernando Simoes, the first author on this paper and a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “So we could use this technique remotely, say from about 600 miles above a planet’s surface, to look at how much water, methane and ammonia is there.”