Scientists investigate dark lightning threat to aircraft passengers

US Navy scientists are going to rig aircraft with radiation detectors to check if a phenomenon known as dark lightning could be killing aircraft passengers.

Dark lightning is the product of the electrical activity caused by thunderstorms and produces intense bursts of omnidirectional terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs) up to half a mile wide, as electrons and positrons are forced to interact by the atmospheric disturbance such storms produce.

The recently discovered phenomenon occurs off the human visual spectrum – thus the name – and at altitudes between six and ten miles within the head of thunderstorm systems. Dark lightning may also play an important role in limiting the amount of electrostatic lightning produced by thunderstorms, but for humans the results could be deadly.