Flyers exposed to dark lightning

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Flyers exposed to "dark lightning"

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

scientists recently discovered something mind-bending about lightning: Sometimes its flashes are invisible, just sudden pulses of unexpectedly powerful radiation. It’s what Joseph Dwyer, a lightning researcher at the Florida Institute of Technology, has termed dark lightning.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/thunderstorms-contain-dark-lightning-invisible-pulses-of-powerful-radiation/2013/04/08/1c796ebc-8a76-11e2-a051-6810d606108d_story.html
 

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  • #2
phinds
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Alarming because ... ?
 
  • #3
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Alarming because ... ?
"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?
 
  • #4
AlephZero
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Is that not cause for concern?
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!
 
  • #5
phinds
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"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?
Ah ... I didn't read the article so missed that part.
 
  • #6
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If it really bothers you, don't fly - but more people are killed on the ground by lighting strikes than when flying!
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.
 
  • #7
phinds
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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.
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:
 
  • #8
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From the article:
However, because there’s only about one dark lightning occurrence for every thousand visible flashes and because pilots take great pains to avoid thunderstorms, Dwyer says, the risk of injury is quite limited. No one knows for sure if anyone has ever been hit by dark lightning.
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.
 
  • #9
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...but more people are killed on the ground by lighting strikes than when flying!
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.
 
  • #10
AlephZero
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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.
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
 
  • #11
DrDu
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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):
http://doris.bfs.de/jspui/handle/urn:nbn:de:0221-201108016029
 
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  • #12
Dotini
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A new, informative video and article from NASA on the effects of space weather on aviation:

http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2013/25oct_aviationswx/
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.
 
  • #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.
 
  • #14
Ryan_m_b
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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.
 
  • #15
Ja, and you're exposed to other radiation up there aren't you? like cosmic rays.

Sorry, missed Dotani's post.
 
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