EDP Sciences
Free access
Volume 429, Number 3, January III 2005
Page(s) L41 - L45
Section Letters
DOI http://dx.doi.org/10.1051/0004-6361:200400102

A&A 429, L41-L45 (2005)
DOI: 10.1051/0004-6361:200400102


Gamma-ray bursts and other sources of giant lightning discharges in protoplanetary systems

B. McBreen1, E. Winston1, S. McBreen2 and L. Hanlon1

1  Department of Experimental Physics, University College, Dublin 4, Ireland
    e-mail: brian.mcbreen@ucd.ie
2  Astrophysics Missions Division, Research Scientific Support Department of ESA, ESTEC, Noordwijk, The Netherlands

(Received 23 June 2004 / Accepted 6 November 2004)

Lightning in the solar nebula is considered to be one of the probable sources for producing the chondrules that are found in meteorites. Gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) provide a large flux of $\gamma$-rays that Compton scatter and create a charge separation in the gas because the electrons are displaced from the positive ions. The electric field easily exceeds the breakdown value of $\approx$1 V m -1 over distances of order 0.1 AU. The energy in a giant lightning discharge exceeds a terrestrial lightning flash by a factor of ~10 12. The predicted post-burst emission of $\gamma$-rays from accretion into the newly formed black hole or spin-down of the magnetar is sufficiently intense to cause a lightning storm in the nebula that lasts for days and is more probable than the GRB because the radiation is beamed into a larger solid angle. The giant outbursts from nearby soft gamma-ray repeater sources (SGRs) are also capable of causing giant lightning discharges. The total amount of chondrules produced is in reasonable agreement with the observations of meteorites. Furthermore in the case of GRBs most chondrules were produced in a few major melting events by nearby GRBs and lightning occurred at effectively the same time over the whole nebula, and provide accurate time markers to the formation of chondrules and evolution of the solar nebula. This model provides a reasonable explanation for the delay between the formation of calcium aluminium inclusions (CAIs) and chondrules.

Key words: gamma rays: bursts -- solar system: formation -- planetary systems: protoplanetary disks -- planetary systems: formation

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