God's Electrical Heavens
According to atmospheric scientists, the Earth has a functioning dynamic global electric circuit. “In the conventional picture, the main components of Earth’s global electric circuit include thunderstorms, the conducting ionosphere, the downward fair-weather currents and the conducting Earth” (Su, et al., p. 974). [The ionosphere is a portion of the upper atmosphere composed of ionized particles formed by the x-ray and ultraviolet irradiative effects of the Sun.] In a greatly simplified picture, the global electric circuit can be viewed as a large spherical capacitor (i.e., a device for the storage of electrical charge). In this model, the ionosphere serves as the upper boundary, and the ground serves as the lower boundary. Between these two boundaries, scientists have measured an existing potential difference of 300,000 volts (Pasko, 2003, 423:927). The electric potential that exists due to this natural capacitor is vital to the global electric circuit. The balance of this potential is vital to the proper functioning of the atmospheric system. Victor Pasko, professor of electrical engineering at Penn State University, commented: “There are many components contributing to the balance of potential between the plates, but two are critical: thunderstorms, of which there are about 2,000 globally at any given time and which act as batteries charging the capacitor; and fair-weather regions, in which the capacitor can discharge continuously through the weakly conducting atmosphere” (p. 927). During fair weather, there is a continual discharge occurring in the global electric circuit. This discharge has been estimated to account for a leakage of approximately one kiloampere, on the global scale.
The traditional view held that the role of thunderstorms was to counteract the continual fair-weather discharge, by acting as a generator driving current into the Earth’s capacitor, both recharging and maintaining the potential difference found between the ionosphere and ground. However, the discovery by Su and his colleagues has introduced another aspect to thunderstorm activity. As Pasko remarked, there is “a new factor in the model of the Earth’s electrical and chemical environment” (p. 927). These “gigantic optical jets” have acted against the commonly held view of thunderstorms as recharging mechanisms; rather, the measurements support the view that they serve to discharge the global capacitor, removing approximately 30 Coulombs each, from the ionosphere. The researchers stated that this would account for only a fraction of one percent of the total charge in the atmosphere, but does “account for a substantial fraction of charges residing in the lower ionosphere” (Su, et al., p. 976). With the new data, Su and his colleagues concluded: “[T]he conventional picture of the global electric circuit needs to be modified to include the contributions of gigantic jets and possibly sprites” (p. 974).
In addition to the electrical environment, Pasko also mentioned that these jets present a new factor in the chemical environment. Oxygen is one of the primary constituents of Earth’s atmosphere, accounting for approximately 21%. Oxygen is considered a diatomic element, meaning that it has an affinity for being paired with itself, as in atmospheric oxygen (O2 ). The explosion of thunder that can be heard is the result of a rapid expansion of air. The expansion of air is caused by the intense heating of atmospheric molecules by the electrical discharge. As it extends, lightning scorches the air, reaching temperatures more than four times hotter than the surface of the Sun—nearly 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. According to John Roach, writer for National Geographic, lightning produces “enough energy to keep a 100-watt light bulb lit for three months” (2003). Through its electrical nature, lightning also has the capacity to ionize particles. It has been documented that lightning has the capacity of initiating chain reactions, whereby atmospheric oxygen molecules are dissociated, leading to the formation of ozone. This process has been duplicated in the production of industrial ozone for the past century (see van Veldhuizen, 2000). Concerning their chemical effects, Pasko commented: “The ionization created by a gigantic jet is likely to have a significant chemical effect on that volume of atmosphere” (p. 928). He went on to correlate the known surface effects with the high-altitude conditions that would be present in TLEs. He commented that in high altitude situations, streamers would “have the ability to produce highly active chemical species and can effectively ‘treat’ thousands of cubic kilometers of atmosphere” (p. 928). Finally, Pasko concluded: “So the known chemical impact of streamers may be a good indication that TLEs noticeably affect the chemistry of the atmosphere” (p. 929).
EVOLUTION VS. DESIGN
The atmosphere is of vital importance to all life on Earth. It contributes to more aspects of life than we are able to quantify, or that could be qualified. For the evolutionist, the changing, early atmosphere of the Earth accounts for the chance emergence of life and the subsequent organic evolutionary process. However, scientists constantly are being confounded by their observations. Although men have been viewing the natural world since the dawn of time, there continues to be an unending stream of intricacies to discover.
Concerning the atmospheric discoveries mentioned, scientists have declared: “It has not been clear, however, whether all the important components of the global circuit have even been identified” (Su, et al., p. 974). They also have commented: “This field is in its infancy, and it remains to be seen how important the electrical and chemical effects of the gigantic jets and other TLEs are for our planet” (Pasko, p. 929). The design of the Earth’s atmosphere continues to impress humanity’s combined intellectual prowess. When discussing the driving forces behind the formation of lightning, Roach described the particle collisions that are needed to produce a separation of electrical charge, which results in the imbalance between cloud and ground. Senior meteorologist Stephen Hodanish of the National Weather Service concluded that a correction (i.e., lightning) for this imbalance results because, “Mother Nature doesn’t like to see that” (as quoted in Raoch, 2003). By ascribing the ultimate cause to an ethereal Mother Nature, Hodanish unknowingly proved the presence of design. Whether it was his intention or not, Hodanish’s comments illustrate the extent of naturalism that now pervades science, and the extent to which that naturalism has reached even into the common aspects of everyday life. Yet, by the scientists’ own admission, it is known that with the brilliantly obvious effect of lightning, there also is a brilliantly obvious Cause.
In the book of Job, the inspired writer penned the words of Elihu, as he declared God’s majesty: “He spreadeth abroad the cloud of his lightning: and it is turned round about by his guidance” (Job 37:11). And to Job, the questions were asked: “O Job: stand still, and consider the wondrous works of God. Dost thou know how God layeth his charge upon them, and causeth the lightning of his cloud to shine? Dost thou know the balancings of the clouds, the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge?” (Job 37:14-16). Job was chastened for placing honor upon himself, neglecting to acknowledge The Most Honorable. For that, Job was reproved—by God Himself.
“Suffer me a little, and I will show thee; for I have yet somewhat to say on God's behalf ” (Job 36:2). In discussing such wonderful design, we also must pay tribute to the Designer; in standing in awe of such an incredible effect, we also must stand in awe of the far greater Cause. As Elihu boldly proclaimed in the verse above as he rebuked Job for self-righteously questioning God’s majesty, we, too, ask, “on God’s behalf,” that time be taken to behold the extraordinary design that is present in the world around us. We must not ascribe it to some mystic, ethereal force; rather, we must acknowledge the ever-so-loving and familiar Father Who can be clearly seen and perceived (Romans 1:20), and Who is “upholding all things by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).
Pasko, Victor P. (2003), “Atmospheric Physics: Electric Jets,” Nature, 423:927-929. June 26.
Pickrell, John (2003), “Huge Mystery Flashes Seen In Outer Atmosphere,” National Geographic News, [On-line], URL: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/06/0625_030625_atmospherethunder.html, June 25.
Roach, John (2003), “Key to Lightning Deaths: Location, Location, Location,” National Geographic News, [On-line], URL: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/05/0522_030522_lightning.html, May 22.
Su, Han-Tzong, Rue-Ron Hsu, A.B. Chen, Y.C. Wang, W.S. Hsiao, W.C. Lai, L.C. Lee, M. Sato, and H. Fukunishi (2003), “Gigantic Jets Between a Thundercloud and the Ionosphere,” Nature, 423:974-976. June 26.
Van Veldhuizen, E.M. ed. (2000), Electrical Discharges for Environment Purposes: Fundamentals and Applications (Nova Science: New York).