Feeds

Planes in thunderstorms cop gamma ray bursts

Only little ones, fortunately

High performance access to file storage

It's long been known that flying exposes people to more cosmic rays than land-lubbers, but new research suggests another source of airborne irradiation: high-energy “dark lightning” that gives rise to gamma radiation.

Florida Institute of Technology researcher Joseph Dwyer outlined the idea at a meeting of the European Geosciences Union in Vienna recently, with the comforting news that such bursts don't produce enough radiation to be dangerous.

Whereas normal lightning is caused by a relatively slow movement of electrons, leading to a charge build-up that's sufficient to break down the insulating properties of air, the “dark lightning” is released by much higher-energy electrons, Dwyer told LiveScience.

The high-energy electrons give rise to gamma radiation when they collide with air particles, Dwyer says, in turn creating new electron/positron pairs that keep the cycle going with further collisions. However, the large amounts of energy released each time mean the cycle is short, and the electric fields “can collapse in a few tens of microseconds”.

Dwyer's model suggests that at 40,000 feet (about 12,000 metres) – near the tops of thunderstorms – radiation doses would be equivalent to a person's normal annual background radiation. In the middle of a storm, at about 16,000 feet (about 5,000 metres) the dose would be much higher.

However, these are conditions that airline pilots routinely avoid unless it's impossible to do so, and a passenger would only get a high dose if they were in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time. He told LiveScience that doses “never seem to reach truly dangerous levels”.

Discovery notes that the National Science Foundation is working on an armoured plane to fly through thunderstorms, which could carry instruments to get an accurate fix on gamma radiation released by dark lightning. ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
Solar-powered aircraft unveiled for round-the-world flight
It's going to be a slow and sleepy flight for the pilots
Russian deputy PM: 'We are coming to the Moon FOREVER'
Plans to annex Earth's satellite with permanent base by 2030
LOHAN's Punch and Judy show relaunches Thursday
Weather looking good for second pop at test flights
Saturn spotted spawning new FEMTO-MOON
Icy 'Peggy' looks to be leaving the outer rings
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
India's GPS alternative launches second satellite
Closed satnav system due to have all seven birds aloft by 2016
Curiosity finds not-very-Australian-shaped rock on Mars
File under 'messianic pastries' and move on, people
Top Secret US payload launched into space successfully
Clandestine NRO spacecraft sets off on its unknown mission
prev story

Whitepapers

Mainstay ROI - Does application security pay?
In this whitepaper learn how you and your enterprise might benefit from better software security.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.