Mysterious energy discovered in thunderclouds


American scientists believe invisible ‘dark lightning’ packs a potent punch of radiation. Source: Supplied

CENTRAL Floridians are no strangers to violent thunderstorms, living in the lightning capital of the country.


Scientists at the Florida Institute of Technology on the Space Coast are traveling the world explaining the mysterious bursts of energy in the atmosphere during lightning storms that emit little visible light.

According to scientist Joseph Dwyer and his colleagues, space telescopes – looking for high-energy bursts from solar flares, black holes and exploding stars – detected strange, bright bursts but had no idea where they originated.

The phenomenon occurs high in the atmosphere at nearly the same altitude as commercial airline flights. The radiation dark lightning produces is about 100 times more potent than an X-ray.

“What’s kind of cool is that what we’re talking about sounds like science fiction – but this stuff is really happening inside thunderstorms,” said Dwyer, who spoke with the Orlando Sentinel from Vienna, where he presented his research at a meeting of the European Geosciences Union. “It’s happening right over our heads.”

Normal lightning occurs when clouds pregnant with positive and negative charges build up and create an electric field. When those charges separate, they discharge huge amounts of energy suddenly and cause a hot, bright, incandescent spark.

It’s like rubbing your feet on a rug and touching a metal doorknob. Zap!


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