Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Dark lightning: Are airplane passengers exposed to radiation from intense bursts of gamma-rays from thunderclouds?

Date:
April 10, 2013
Source:
Florida Institute of Technology
Summary:
Scientists have known for almost a decade that thunderstorms are capable of generating brief but powerful bursts of gamma-rays called terrestrial gamma-ray flashes, or TGFs. Because they can originate near the same altitudes at which commercial aircraft routinely fly, scientists have been trying to determine whether or not terrestrial gamma ray flashes present a radiation hazard to individuals in aircraft. In the middle of the storm, radiation doses could be roughly equal to a full-body CT scan, preliminary research suggests.

"What are the radiation doses to airplane passengers from the intense bursts of gamma-rays that originate from thunderclouds?" Florida Institute of Technology Department of Physics and Space Science faculty members addressed the issue and presented their terrestrial gamma ray flashes research modeling work at a press conference meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna, Austria, April 10. Joseph Dwyer, Ningyu Liu and Hamid Rassoul discussed a new physics-based model of radiation dose calculations and compared the calculations to previous work.

Related Articles


Scientists have known for almost a decade that thunderstorms are capable of generating brief but powerful bursts of gamma-rays called terrestrial gamma-ray flashes, or TGFs. These flashes of gamma-rays are so bright they can blind instruments many hundreds of kilometers away in outer space. Because they can originate near the same altitudes at which commercial aircraft routinely fly, scientists have been trying to determine whether or not terrestrial gamma ray flashes present a radiation hazard to individuals in aircraft.

Until recently, the work to answer that question was hampered by a poor understanding of exactly how these gamma-rays are generated by thunderstorms, with initial dose estimates ranging from not-so-safe to downright scary.

Now, scientists at Florida Tech have developed a promising physics-based model of exactly how thunderstorms manage to produce high-energy radiation.

According to their 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."

Recent modeling work of dark lightning shows that it can explain many of the observed properties of terrestrial gamma ray flashes. The model also calculates the radiation doses received by individuals inside aircraft that happen to be in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time. Near the tops of the storms, for the types of terrestrial gamma-ray flashes that can be seen from space, the radiation doses are equivalent to about 10 chest x-rays, or about the same radiation people would receive from natural background sources over the course of a year.

"However, near the middle of the storms, the radiation dose could be about 10 times larger, comparable to some of the largest doses received during medical procedures and roughly equal to a full-body CT scan," said Dwyer. "Although airline pilots already do their best to avoid thunderstorms, occasionally aircraft do end up inside electrified storms, exposing passengers to terrestrial gamma ray flashes. On rare occasions, according to the model calculation, it may be possible that hundreds of people, without knowing it, may be simultaneously receiving a sizable dose of radiation from dark lightning."

It is not known yet how often, if ever, this actually occurs, but ongoing research is working to address this issue.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Florida Institute of Technology. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Florida Institute of Technology. "Dark lightning: Are airplane passengers exposed to radiation from intense bursts of gamma-rays from thunderclouds?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 April 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130410082734.htm>.
Florida Institute of Technology. (2013, April 10). Dark lightning: Are airplane passengers exposed to radiation from intense bursts of gamma-rays from thunderclouds?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 28, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130410082734.htm
Florida Institute of Technology. "Dark lightning: Are airplane passengers exposed to radiation from intense bursts of gamma-rays from thunderclouds?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130410082734.htm (accessed January 28, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Asteroid's Moon Spotted During Earth Flyby

Asteroid's Moon Spotted During Earth Flyby

Rumble (Jan. 27, 2015) Scientists working with NASA&apos;s Deep Space Network antenna at Goldstone, California discovered an unexpected moon while observing asteroid 2004 BL86 during its recent flyby past Earth. Credit to &apos;NASA JPL&apos;. Video provided by Rumble
Powered by NewsLook.com
Water Fleas Prepare for Space Voyage

Water Fleas Prepare for Space Voyage

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Jan. 26, 2015) Scientists are preparing a group of water fleas for a unique voyage into space. The aquatic crustaceans, known as Daphnia, can be used as a miniature model for biomedical research, and their reproductive and swimming behaviour will be tested for signs of stress while on board the International Space Station. Jim Drury went to meet the team. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mars Rover Opportunity Celebrates 11-Year Anniversary

Mars Rover Opportunity Celebrates 11-Year Anniversary

Rumble (Jan. 26, 2015) Eleven years ago NASA&apos;s Opportunity rover touched down on Mars for what was only supposed to be a 90-day mission. Since then it has traveled 25.9 miles (41.7 kilometers), further than any other off-Earth surface vehicle has ever driven. Credit to &apos;NASA&apos;. Video provided by Rumble
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA's On Course To Take Pluto's Best Photo Ever

NASA's On Course To Take Pluto's Best Photo Ever

Newsy (Jan. 25, 2015) NASA&apos;s New Horizons probe is en route to snap a picture of Pluto this summer, but making sure it doesn&apos;t miss its one chance to do so starts now. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins