Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the phenomena known to scientists as dark lightning. Most people have never heard of dark lightning because it is approximately one thousand times dimmer than normal lightning. The scary part: it not only emits electricity like normal lighting, but it emits gamma rays as well. Hence the name dark lightning.
Florida Tech leads the research on dark lightning, as we strive to fully understand what is really going on. I had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Joe Dwyer, who is leading the research on dark lighting at Florida Tech. Dr. Dwyer’s research is helping to explain how thunderstorms can emit gamma rays and his team of professors and graduate students have been able to develop a model that explains this. According to Dr. Dwyer, “What this model says is that there is a new kind of lightning that competes with normal lightning processes.”
Dark lightning occurs every 1/1000 strikes of lightning; therefore it is rare that a plane could be struck by it. Aircrafts are usually directed around a thunderstorm rather than fly through it. Surprisingly, if by chance you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, there is no dangerous threat. According to Dr. Dwyer, the dose of radiation that you may be exposed to by dark lightning is similar to that of getting a full body CT scan, so there is no real need for people to be scared.
Dark lightning, discovered over a decade ago by a research team at NASA, is still not well understood. Dr. Dwyer’s team is working hard to determine the frequency at which these strikes occur. Unfortunately, it is difficult to tell when dark lighting is happening unless there is a radiation detector present. One indicator, however, is a purple glow, though it is relatively hard to spot.
“It’s kind of cool that 250 years have passed since Benjamin Franklin’s kite experiment, and we’ve realized there’s a different kind of lightning going on that we never knew about.” – Dr. Dwyer
This is an example of the kind of research that goes on at Florida Tech. Research is more than lab experiments for a class – it is about finding new information that has global impacts.
Are you working on any research projects?
Do you want to? If so, what are you interested in?