Lightning and charge processes in brown dwarf and exoplanet atmospheres

Christiane Helling*, Paul B. Rimmer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (Scopus)


The study of the composition of brown dwarf atmospheres helped to understand their formation and evolution. Similarly, the study of exoplanet atmospheres is expected to constrain their formation and evolutionary states. We use results from three-dimensional simulations, kinetic cloud formation and kinetic ion-neutral chemistry to investigate ionization processes that will affect their atmosphere chemistry: the dayside of super-hot Jupiters is dominated by atomic hydrogen, and not H2O. Such planetary atmospheres exhibit a substantial degree of thermal ionization and clouds only form on the nightside where lightning leaves chemical tracers (e.g. HCN) for possibly long enough to be detectable. External radiation may cause exoplanets to be enshrouded in a shell of highly ionized, H3+-forming gas and a weather-driven aurora may emerge. Brown dwarfs enable us to study the role of electron beams for the emergence of an extrasolar, weather system-driven aurora-like chemistry, and the effect of strong magnetic fields on cold atmospheric gases. Electron beams trigger the formation of H3+ in the upper atmosphere of a brown dwarf (e.g. LSR-J1835), which may react with it to form hydronium, H3O+, as a longer lived chemical tracer. Brown dwarfs and super-hot gas giants may be excellent candidates to search for H3O+ as an H3+ product.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20180398
Number of pages17
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. A, Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number2154
Early online date5 Aug 2019
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sept 2019


  • Exoplanet
  • Brown dwarf
  • Lightning
  • Charges
  • Aurora


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