Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Flyers exposed to dark lightning

  1. Apr 9, 2013 #1
    Flyers exposed to "dark lightning"

    As a frequent air traveler I find this interesting and perhaps alarming!

  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 9, 2013 #2


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Alarming because ... ?
  4. Apr 9, 2013 #3
    "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."

    Is that not cause for concern?
  5. Apr 9, 2013 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    There's no sense in being concerned about something that you have no control over.

    If it really bothers you, don't fly - but more people are killed on the ground by lighting strikes than when flying!
  6. Apr 9, 2013 #5


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Ah ... I didn't read the article so missed that part.
  7. Apr 9, 2013 #6
    Given the article, maybe not. I don't know how common dark lightening is but, I would imagine receiving multiple instant "lifetime doses" of radiation is not good and could result in cancer. I suppose the easiest ways to detect this is to study the health of pilots.
  8. Apr 9, 2013 #7


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    Excellent point and it seems likely that if pilots, many of whom have been flying regularly for MANY years, had a significantly higher incidence of cancer than the general population, someone would have noticed by now and it would be serious news. I thus conclude (possibly incorrectly) that there is no danger. :smile:
  9. Apr 9, 2013 #8
    From the article:
    But I remember reading about the Delta Air Lines Flight 191 crash and how it was routine for pilots to completely ignore thunderstorms as to not upset flight schedules.
  10. Apr 9, 2013 #9
    This, though, is due to the plane's metallic skin acting like a Faraday Cage, isn't it? The same reason being inside a car is much safer than in the open.

    I'm not sure a Faraday Cage is safe from X-rays and Gamma Rays. If it is, then being in a plane would make you safer from "Dark Lightning" than you'd be standing in the open on the ground during a lightning display.
  11. Apr 9, 2013 #10


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    I'm not aware of that particular incident (and I haven't looked it up) but IMO the only reason a sane pilot would "ignore" a thunderstorm was because he/she didn't know it was there.

    And unless your engine power lever has a setting marked "reheat", you stand NO chance of avoiding a storm by flying over the top of it!

    But sometimes you get lucky: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1542962/Paraglider-survived-in-storm-at-32000-ft.html
  12. Apr 10, 2013 #11


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    At least in Europe, radiation exposure of flight personnel is monitored. The mean occupational exposure is about 2.4 mSv per year, which is much higher than the exposure of e.g. medical personnel. However, monitoring is based on information on the flight routes and the average exposure on these routes, not on individual dosimetric data. I conclude from this that gamma ray bursts in thunder storms are not (yet) considered a mayor health threat.
    See e.g. the following report (in German):
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2013
  13. Oct 30, 2013 #12


    User Avatar
    Gold Member

    A new, informative video and article from NASA on the effects of space weather on aviation:

    The FAA classifies pilots as "occupational radiation workers." Flying high above Earth with little atmosphere to protect them, they can absorb significant doses of cosmic rays and solar radiation. During a typical polar flight from Chicago to Beijing, for instance, a pilot is exposed to the equivalent of two chest x-rays. Multiplied over the course of a career, this can cause problems such as increased risk of cancer and possibly cataracts.

    Passengers have reason to be concerned, too.

    "A 100,000 mile frequent flyer gets about 20 chest x-rays," points out Chris Mertens, a senior research scientist at NASA Langley Research Center. "This is true regardless of the latitude of the flights."


    However, Earth's poles are where the radiation problem can be most severe. Our planet's magnetic field funnels cosmic rays and solar energetic particles over the very same latitudes where airlines want to fly. On a typical day when the sun is quiet, dose rates for international flights over the poles are 3 to 5 times higher than domestic flights closer to the equator.
  14. Oct 30, 2013 #13
    NB: I read that dark lightning consists of gamma rays in popular mechanics, so the radiation wont travel far but if it hits you that makes it even worse.
  15. Oct 30, 2013 #14


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    I'm more worried about being killed in a car crash, knifed on the street and slipping in a shower. There are millions of things that can hurt you in life, if we can do something about them then we should but short of encasing every plane in heavy materials to stop radiation (which would probably kill more people by increased fuel pollution) then there's little reason to worry about it. It will only make you sick through stress.
  16. Oct 30, 2013 #15
    Ja, and you're exposed to other radiation up there aren't you? like cosmic rays.

    Sorry, missed Dotani's post.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 31, 2013
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook