Runaway electrification of friable self-replicating granular matter
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We establish that the nonlinear dynamics of collisions between particles favors the charging of an insulating, friable, self-replicating granular material that undergoes nucleation, growth, and fission processes; we demonstrate with a minimal dynamical model that secondary nucleation produces a positive feedback in an electrification mechanism that leads to runaway charging. We discuss ice as an example of such a self-replicating granular material: We confirm with laboratory experiments in which we grow ice from the vapor phase in situ within an environmental scanning electron microscope that charging causes fast-growing and easily breakable palmlike structures to form, which when broken off may form secondary nuclei. We propose that thunderstorms, both terrestrial and on other planets, and lightning in the solar nebula are instances of such runaway charging arising from this nonlinear dynamics in self-replicating granular matter.