Schumann resonances as a means of investigating the electromagnetic environment in the solar system

F. Simões, M. Rycroft, N. Renno, Y. Yair, K. L. Aplin, Y. Takahashi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The propagation of extremely low frequency (ELF, 3 Hz to 3 kHz) radio waves and resonant phenomena in the spherical Earth-ionosphere cavity has been studied for almost fifty years. When such a cavity is excited by naturally occurring broadband electromagnetic radiation, resonances can develop if the equatorial circumference is approximately equal to an integral number of wavelengths of the propagating electromagnetic waves; these are termed Schumann resonances. They provide information not only about thunderstorm and lightning activity on the Earth, and their relation to climate, but also on the properties of the low ionosphere. Similar investigations can be performed for any other planet or satellite, provided that it has an ionosphere. There are important differences between the Earth and other celestial bodies regarding, for example, the surface conductivity, the atmospheric conductivity profile, the geometry of the ionospheric cavity, and the sources of excitation. To a first approximation, the size of the cavity defines the fundamental resonant frequency, the atmospheric electron density profile controls the wave attenuation, the nature of the sources influences the electromagnetic field distribution in the cavity, and the body surface conductivity indicates to what extent the subsurface can be explored. The frequencies and attenuation rates of the principal eigenmodes depend upon the electrical properties of the cavity. Instruments that monitor the electromagnetic environment in the ELF range on the surface, on balloons, or on descent probes provide unique information on the cavity. In this paper, we present Schumann resonance models for selected inner planets, some gaseous giant planets and a few of their satellites. We review the crucial parameters of ELF electromagnetic waves in their atmospheric cavities, namely the electric and magnetic field spectra, their eigenfrequencies, and the associated Q-factors (damping factors). Then we present important information on theoretical developments, on a general model that uses the finite element method and on the parameterization of the cavity. Next we show the distinctiveness of each planetary environment, and discuss how ELF radio wave propagation can contribute to an assessment of the major characteristics of those planetary environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455-471
Number of pages17
JournalSpace Science Reviews
Issue number1-4
StatePublished - Jun 2008


  • Atmosphere
  • Atmospheric electricity
  • Ionosphere
  • Lightning
  • Moons
  • Planets
  • Schumann resonance
  • Wave propagation


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