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ETpro's avatar

Are you ready for dark lightning?

Asked by ETpro (34521points) April 10th, 2013

Move over, dark energy and dark matter. There is a new dark kid on the block. And we can visit this one right here on Earth, no trip into interstellar space required. Dark lightning occurs within thunder heads when electrons racing around at near the speed of light collide with particles within atoms and emit gamma radiation. As global warming increases the severity of storms, bolts of dark lightning, originally observed by NASA spacecraft back in 1994, are becoming increasingly common within thunderheads at altitudes that commercial aircraft operate at. The phenomenon doesn’t down the plane, but it does expose passengers to about the level of radiation they would get from a CT scan. A warming planet also means disturbances in the flows of the jet streams, and increased clear air turbulence.

So turn on the black lights, fasten your seat belts, and get ready for a hair-raising, turbulent future with dark lightning in the forecast.

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24 Answers

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Is that part of the lightening sprites in thunderstorms? Already had my seat belt on for the the “E” ride @ Walt D world.

ETpro's avatar

No, lightning sprites are plasma discharges way up in the mesosphere to the thermosphere, from 50 to 100 Km up. They certainly are beautiful though. But not the same as dark lightning, which does not display much, if any, visible light; and which is down in the troposphere and stratosphere and where jet liners routinely operate, from 13 Km down.

Seek's avatar

The sprite in @ETpro ‘s link looks like a jellyfish

ucme's avatar

Sounds like some cheesy after-shave lotion…“bring out the thunder in your pants…grrrr!”

Dutchess_III's avatar


zenvelo's avatar

Except most times commercial pilots will fly around thunderheads. So getting the dark lightning isn’t all that common. And while there may be more thunderheads because of global climate change, I would suppose they’ve been in thunderstorms all along.

I saw the story this morning, airplane passengers already get a ton more radiation from flying at altitude.

If it bothers you, take the train.

gasman's avatar

It should be noted that dark lightning is “dark” because it produces gamma rays, which are photons more energetic than x-rays & similarly invisible to humans, though we have detectors to measure them.

This stands in contrast to dark matter that pervades the galaxy, which is truly dark because it is not capable of emitting photons (radiating) at any energy. I hadn’t heard of dark lightning until now (GQ! @ETpro) but apparently it’s explainable with ordinary physics. It’s not the kind of ongoing mystery that astronomers speak of with dark matter and dark energy. Two different meanings of dark.

I found an article that explains a little more about the lightning effect:

According to their [scientists at Florida Tech] model, instead of creating normal lightning, thunderstorms can sometimes produce an exotic kind of electrical breakdown that involves high-energy electrons and their anti-matter equivalent called positrons. The interplay between the electrons and positrons causes an explosive growth in the number of these high-energy particles, emitting the observed terrestrial gamma ray flashes while rapidly discharging the thundercloud, sometimes even faster than normal lightning. Even though copious gamma-rays are emitted by this process, very little visible light is produced, creating a kind of electrical breakdown within the storms called “dark lightning.”

DigitalBlue's avatar

I don’t really have any input, just that this is a great question. Thanks for the info, @ETpro.

Dutchess_III's avatar

We could talk about trains @DigitalBlue. They’re freagin expensive!!

Ron_C's avatar

Thanks, @ETpro, we learn something new every day. I find the idea of a gamma ray generator in thunderstorms disheartening. We go through hundreds of microwave and atomic radiation emissions every day. Everything from police radar guns to motion detectors in banks, and medical exams which require numerous exposures. You never know which one will hit a cell and stimulates replication and cancerous conditions.

Too bad we can’t line passenger jets with lead. I guess we’ll have to “suck it up” and take our chances along with frequent flyer miles.

YARNLADY's avatar

Maybe this is what will lead to the next level.

Pachy's avatar

The G.O.P. will find a way to blame it on Obama.

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

One little thing called fear stops me from flying, and travelling by ship and doing many things I would love to do.

It also makes sense why my daughter battles with fear issues. :/

ETpro's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr It’d make a great avatar, wouldn’t it?

@ucme Ha! Dark Lightning®. Indeed it would.

@Dutchess_III Yes, that is true. We are all going to die. But then that has been true since the dawn of time, it’s just a bitch that discovering dark lightning does nothing to change that fact. :-)

@zenvelo Pilots avoid the thunder storms they can avoid. When there is a squall line stretching for hundreds of miles (just happened this week in the US) they can’t fly around.

And take what train. China can have high speed trains for their people, which are mostly the two-legged type. We only can have trains for our kind of people, like Monsanto, and Exxon Mobil.

@gasman Thanks for finding that article. Great info.

@DigitalBlue You’re very welcome.

@Ron_C We’re going to need to develop an entirely different sort of engine to fly Lead Zeppelins full of people and cargo through our skies. Till then, if it is any comfort, here’s an OSHA Report on the exposure to the officer continually operating the radar. Since it’s deemed safe for the full-time operator, I’d think the level of exposure of the typical motorist would be ridiculously low. Lots of bank sensors use visible light alone, or passive infrared sensors. A few use microwave and or tomographic sensing as well. But those systems are only active at night. They pose no threat to customers, and if the fry a gang of bank robbers, they save the taxpayers money paying for a trial.

@YARNLADY I am more than ready for the next level, so I hope you’re right. :-)

@Pachyderm_In_The_Room I can just hear how the white supremacist wing of the GOP would phrase that. :-)

@nofurbelowsbatgirl What is this “fear” thing you speak of?

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

@ETpro Well I can’t exactley say it is the fear of heights, because that is not it. Albeit humerous, lol, me saying fear of dying would seem ironic if we were to considering we could be talking about being struck by possible invisible radiating black death at an altitude of 32,000ft..would’nt it?

“Unlike with regular lightning, though, people struck by dark lightning, most likely while flying in an airplane, would not get hurt. But according to Dwyer’s calculations, they might receive in an instant the maximum safe lifetime dose of ionizing radiation — the kind that wreaks the most havoc on the human body.

“People struck by dark lightning, most likely while flying, would not get hurt, but a scientist estimates that they might receive a high dose of dangerous radiation.

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

I just love that statement. I can see it now being use in homes across the country..

Bobby! Do not touch yourself there! You would not get hurt, but it might be dangerous!

DaphneT's avatar

So, before I read the other answers: How do we know this is not Aliens mapping the humans?

Not, got nothin’ else. Sorry.

ETpro's avatar

@nofurbelowsbatgirl Ha! GA. But as far as radiation, it’s no more than you’d get in a full body CAT scan, and some people have to get more then one of those yet manage not to get fried.

@DaphneT We’ve figured out the physics of what’s happening in the thunderhead that produces dark lightning. It’s been happening since the dawn of time, but we weren’t mucking around in the stratosphere where it occurs or watching with eyes capable of seeing gamma rays till just recently.

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar


Live on the dangerous side! lol I don’t think I have to tell you that twice ;)

Or better yet a quote most often thrown around my house to help us scared nellys lol

“Danger? I walk on the wildside. I laugh in the face of danger.”

Now this concludes my lesson folks. :)

ETpro's avatar

For those still following the thread but not into reading, here’s a video telling about the phenomenon and the radiation exposure it poses for airline passengers exposed to it.

So watch it while joining with @nofurbelowsbatgirl and me in doing as Simba suggests, laughing in the face of danger.

ETpro's avatar

@nofurbelowsbatgirl What’s the point of laughing in the face of danger if you are afraid that exposed you to danger?

nofurbelowsbatgirl's avatar

@ETpro Well my point is that some danger is unavoidable but funny so maybe I just laugh at everybody else laughing in the face of danger and say the mantra to feel like I am making important steps towards something! ROTFLMAO in the face of
everyone else’s danger. ;)

ETpro's avatar

Re ROTFLMAO see this NSFW question re that.

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