# Could we unintentionally induce a positive or negative charge on an entire planet?

Fits into the planetary transfer of energy category...for whatever reason and using whatever means, one planet is used to generate a massive amount of energy, ultimately as electricity. This power is transmitted to another planetary body and consumed.

If this happened on a large scale over a significant amount of time...Two questions:

a) Is it possible for a planetary body to gain enough of a net charge to start impacting life on that planet? (either positive through mass export of it's electrons, or negative through mass import of electrons) If so, what type of impacts might this have on life on that planet?

b) If the transfer was between Earth and it's moon, is it feasible that the transfer of electrons from the Earth to the moon is enough to start impacting the moons orbit (I'd assume a greater attraction between the earth and the moon)...could the charge be great enough to cause the two to collide?

and bonus

c) Is a naturally occurring positively charged (or negatively) planetary body a feasible occurrence?

d) Any other effects of a massive transfer of power from one planet to another?

Will expand further if needed...assume industrial use of the power transfer, over 10x the current usage on earth per day and more if needed.

• Mar 3, 2015 at 5:19

There are some problems with how your question is phrased. Can we induce charges on things? Yes. The electrons of something, though, must go someplace, which would mean that a planet with a charge would require removing those electrons.

Then there is the problem of Coulomb forces; the force of attraction between positive and negative charges. Coulomb forces are much, much stronger than gravity. This can be easily done by looking at the equations of attraction for charges

$$F = \frac{k_eq_1q_2}{r^{2}}$$ and masses: $$F = \frac{Gm_1m_2}{r^{2}}$$ (These are scalar equations, but the vector versions are not too different, and do not meaningly impact the discussion here.) If we look at some protons at 1 m, the values of each of these forces is $$2*10^{-28} N$$ for the electric force and $$1.87 * 10^{-64} N$$ for the gravitational. (For electrons, it's a gravitational force of $$5.54*10^{-71} N$$ and $$2.3 * 10^{-28} N$$ for the coulomb force at 1 m.)

I hope you see the problems here. The gravitational force is simply too weak to hold things which the electromagnetic force wants to pull apart. You cannot assemble a planet from a plasma because of this.

There is also the issue of measuring charge. We always measure charge according to a base level of charge, usually that of the earth. If we had a solar-system spanning network of wires, maybe we would see some electron flow from one planet to the next. I find this unlikely, though, because any discrepancy in charge in the universe will attempt to fix itself quickly via Coulomb Forces.

Also, electric currents we carry along in power lines are shoving electrons back and forth, in an alternating current. Modern power plants do not package electrons and move them somewhere to power our devices. Even in direct current situations, the electrons which move in circuits are replaced by electrons directly behind them. The closest thing you would get is a capacitor, and those discharge rather quickly.

# Can We Charge a Planet?

Yes. We can theoretically remove electrons from planetary bodies. No, it is not practical. You need to gather your electrons, take them away from the planet, and put them on something which will keep them there. Holding electrons on one thing is hard. If you get a big enough bucket of electrons (no, you can't place them in a bucket like apples), they will overcome the resistance of your bucket and go back to where they were.

Stopping other electrons in the universe from taking their place is harder. How are you going to stop space dust from hitting your planet and evening out the electric charge? Even something like the solar wind will stymie your plans by introducing ions of the opposite charge. Say you remove some portion of a planet's electrons, but more matter is added from impacts of things in space. Sure, you're losing electrons, but you may be gaining more electrons than you can pull away. This would result in you shipping a lot of electrons, but your shipped electrons would be an ever-decreasing percentage of the total electrons.

If you remove enough electrons from a planet, chemistry will be utterly displeased, and you will see compounds break down. This is due to the fact that you need electrons to form chemical bonds. When there are not enough electrons to go around, expect everything to dissolve in a highly acidic (according to Lewis) mess.

# What About a Charged Earth/Moon System?

If electrons from earth ended up on the moon, in such a way that the moon had an opposite charge from that of earth, their orbits would change. We have established above that the EM force is much, much stronger than gravity over the similar distances. The difference in charge would lead the charged particles on both the earth and moon to move towards each other. If those particles are affixed strongly enough to either of these bodies, it will carry the body with them.

# Can a Planetary Body be Charged?

In theory, yes, there could be situations where a planetary body has a net charge. This situation may not last very long on a cosmic timescale, due to the attraction of charged particles to particles of unlike charge. Perhaps something is emitting a large stream of super electronegative particles, and they are ripping electrons off of a planet. This can't be a regular solar wind, as that is made of both positive and negative ions. (The ions of opposite charge could neutralize your charged planetary body, resulting in a charged solar wind or odd topographic changes to the wind.)

Perhaps there is a net charge of the universe in general, maybe due to excessive production of particles of a certain charge. We wouldn't notice, of course, unless something deviated from that. This is because we do not measure how many protons and electrons are in a thing when we measure charge, we only measure how many more or less of those there are relative to something else.

# Transferring Power?

You mean transferring energy? Power is not energy. Really, it ought to be transferring electrons. Anyways, if you charged a planet like a giant Van de Graaff Generator, you would find that whatever comes into contact with that planet will try to get into electrostatic equilibrium; that is, it would transfer charge between the new object and itself until they both had that same overall charge. That makes a lot of lightning.

You may also get an effect where objects of like charge (from a solar wind, for example), would be repelled by the planet, whereas it would "suck in" items of opposite charge. It would be a rather confusing thing to see until you realized the charge of the planet.

• Wouldn't any small amount of accumulated charge be dissipated by the solar wind? In any case, charged objects generally don't stay charged, since a (for example) positively charged planet will attract more negative ions, neutralizing its charge. Mar 3, 2015 at 3:45
• @2012rcampion I don't know about solar wind, but that's one accepted way to keep down electrostatic discharge on sensitive areas: blow a bunch of ions across the top, and the like charges attract. Mar 3, 2015 at 4:04
• @CortAmmon Yeah, I just learned about that in ESD training at work this month =) Mar 3, 2015 at 4:13
• @2012rcampion I believed this was addressed in the answer. I suppose I'll edit it and make it more clear. Mar 3, 2015 at 4:27
• For your Earth/Moon example it means the charges would more easily escape gravity. If the body has an abundance of the same charge, the only thing keeping the charged particles there is gravity. The same goes for charging a planet alone, you can only charge so much before the repulsive force overcomes gravity and charges escape into space. Mar 3, 2015 at 4:51