A previous question's answer established that naturally occurring positrons could be gathered through positron-emitting isotopes. I've started looking into means that these isotopes could be gathered and utilized.

The original approach involved mining for potassium-40, but its million year half life and low rate of positron emission was too slow to be useful. Attempts to find a means to accelerate/manipulate this decay are not looking too promising, so I started looking into a new approach.

The other isotope that was brought up was nitrogen-13 which can be created by lightning strikes in a nitrogen atmosphere.

I came up with the idea of setting loose a swarm of drones that would chase down lightning strikes and attempt to scoop up as much nitrogen-13 as they can and begin isolating positrons from it as they fill up while dumping the unwanted gasses for propulsion. Eventually, they would take their stored isotopes and positrons back to a tanker or platform in orbit.

I'm intending for these drones to be deployed on gas giants that have particularly high lightning activity, which brings me to the first concern.

Assuming the drone was both aerodynamic and durable enough to fly in a gas giant's dense atmosphere without being crushed by that same atmosphere, would the the same lightning it is chasing down for nitrogen-13 be likely to directly strike the drone as well?

If lightning striking the drone were a concern, what could be done to ensure it is not the ideal path for lightning or that it could survive the lightning strike?

  • $\begingroup$ "Wouldn't it be cheaper" is not answerable without much more details about economy of your world. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 21:01
  • $\begingroup$ You're right. I've removed that paragraph. $\endgroup$
    – Arvex
    Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ Your drone can deal with the crushing pressure, ridiculous wind shear, obscene radiation belts and ludicrous gravity; yet you’re concerned about lightning?? $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 21:33
  • $\begingroup$ Gravity is not as big a concern as you might think; some gas giants have similar gravity to Earth. Saturn, in particular has a gravity of 1.065 g or 10.44 m/s^2. $\endgroup$
    – Arvex
    Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 21:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Arvex: what altitude is that at? $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Commented Dec 17, 2017 at 22:48

1 Answer 1


To expand my comment into an answer:

You’ve built a drone capable of dealing with truly ridiculous gravitational forces, wind shear, pressure, radiation, and the vacuum of space.

Lightning strikes can be dealt with using a simple strip of copper, as churches (or other tall buildings) through the ages can show. The reason for this is that the copper strip offers a much less resistive path than the rest of the building.

Any species capable of building drones that can deal with everything these drones must will also be able to engineer ‘lightning rods’ around the drone.

If you want to get really fancy they can even build in a full on faraday cage, which I suspect would be required to shield the electronics of the drone from the van Allen belt radiation of the gas giant anyway.

Either way, don’t worry about being hit by lightning. These drones should be able to deal with it.

  • $\begingroup$ Are you certain it won't be an issue? Saturn has lightning that is, at least from what I read, about a thousand times more powerful than Earth's lightning. $\endgroup$
    – Arvex
    Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 5:11

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