This is Hanorane, a moon of a gas planet with powerful magnetic fields.

Hanorane (han-or-a-ney) is a moon with a dynamic surface covered in charged sand particles that drift in massive rivers suspended by electrostatic levitation. The only solid ground is the worn and ancient remains of black marble mountains that stick up above the sand. The magnetic fields here have been compressed down to surface level. Storms here typically feature changes in magnetic fields opening vast chasms, creating sand fountains, and other topographical changes. As I have it now, when the amount of sand in the atmosphere reaches a critical threshold a vast electrified sandstorm forms. What I imagine is powerful lightning bolts melting sand into huge fulgurites through the air, leaving behind something like a glassy brier that would decay in the coming weeks. However I am not sure that a sandstorm alone could accomplish this. Thoughts?

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    $\begingroup$ That's a beautiful picture. The world you've envisioned is hellish to visit but I wouldn't mind watching from orbit for a while. $\endgroup$ – Green Jul 28 '15 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ A couple of question though: Is the sand also made from the same black marble or does the sand come from a different part of the planet? $\endgroup$ – Green Jul 28 '15 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ What kind of core does this planet have? Any idea of the strength of the magnetic field? $\endgroup$ – Green Jul 28 '15 at 21:49
  • $\begingroup$ The sand and black marble are from different processes. There are floating continents of silica (sandstone) that float underneath the sand crawl, but over a mantle of glass and marble magma. Occasionally a part of one of these continents is thrust to the surface to be worn down again. The black marble is formed from volcanic activity creating glass lava tubes that channel molten elements to the surface in volcanoes. Since the marble is rather durable, and not magnetically charged, it takes a long time to be eroded away. $\endgroup$ – Josh Belmont Jul 28 '15 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ I do not know how strong the field would have to be, but the core is a hot, molten ball of liquid metal surrounded by lava lamp of molten glass and other silicates. Since the surface is in such motion, most heavier elements sink back down from the surface. $\endgroup$ – Josh Belmont Jul 28 '15 at 21:58

Fusing sand on earth works because the sand grains are touching each other. If the grains are blowing around, it would need to be a particularly dense "sand-fog" for the grains to fuse together into a shape strong enough to survive falling to the ground or not shatter when falling over. If the grains are too far apart then they may fuse to a close neighbor but not into a large enough shape to be recognizable as fulgurite. Sand tornadoes might be an opportune place to concentrate sand and increase electric charge. Also, a tornado might generate some very tall structures.

As long as there are dense sand storms (which I'm sure there are) then I think it's plausible, especially if you play up the planet's weather with intense and frequent electrical storms.

  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, sand tornadoes would be a very efficient way of creating a dense enough cloud to condense sand into glass with lightning. I hadn't though of that! Do you think that these lightning bolts could "draw in" sand into a bolt to help fuse it together? These particles are magnetic after all. Or perhaps magnetic field reconnection? $\endgroup$ – Josh Belmont Jul 28 '15 at 22:08
  • $\begingroup$ Reasoning about magnetic particles in the kind of environment is beyond my ability. Begin the handwaving The grains are magnetically charged and don't like to stick together but putting a huge electrical field near them might overcome the repulsive charge of the grains and force them close enough for fusion. My mental equivalent is nuclear fusion of hydrogen atoms. Maybe?! Probably. $\endgroup$ – Green Jul 28 '15 at 22:13
  • $\begingroup$ I've never researched what happens in the electrical field around a bolt of lighting, I just know that the field is ginormous! $\endgroup$ – Green Jul 28 '15 at 22:13
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, I love to research weather phenomena, but this is beyond my ability as well. What is awesome though is by talking to another person about some of these things can really open up a new perspective. Thank you for your input! Sand tornadoes are going in for sure! $\endgroup$ – Josh Belmont Jul 28 '15 at 22:18
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    $\begingroup$ In regards to getting a dense enough cloud of sand, you should consider how lightning chooses where it strikes. Lightning is essentially a large spark that will follow the path of least resistance. If your sand is conductive, a tornado or any other sort of transient increase in density/conductivity will cause lightning. Lightning will occur in the densest column of sand it has available. $\endgroup$ – Mike Nichols Jul 29 '15 at 20:53

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