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back to article 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 …

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Compare to Dental X-Ray

I went to the dentist a couple of hours ago, and was talking with the hygienist about X-rays. She made the comment that the X-rays used in dentists offices is MUCH less than it was only a few years ago (they now use electronic sensors, not film like they used to). I then pointed out that flying long flights (internationally) exposes you to LOTS more stuff than the simple X-rays you get on a yearly basis. The information I used related to high altitude exposure, but when you add in this little stuff, it can get excessive at times. When you only fly a few flights a year, the integrated exposure isn't very much, but if you are employed as part of the flight crew (main cabin, or cockpit) you get several trips in a month (sometimes over 4 long flights a week!) and for those people, it can add up.

So, to really find out, we need some silly "in-depth" study, when collecting the data might be as easy as taping a piece of film (suitably shielded from light) to the side of the plane with duct tape.

Then we get OSHA regulations and prop 65 warnings galore to scare the public!

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Re: Compare to Dental X-Ray

"So, to really find out, we need some silly "in-depth" study, when collecting the data might be as easy as taping a piece of film (suitably shielded from light) to the side of the plane with duct tape."

I might be missing something here but wouldn't an "in-depth study" (read: health survey) of flight crews to find elevated cancer rates be fairly easy to arrange?* (And one could not unreasonably expect that elevated cancer rates would have been noted by flight crews long ago, if they exist.) Aside from whatever other scientific interest dark lightning has, wouldn't the health effects be the main area of concern?

* I realize that while the existence of elevated cancer rates in such a survey would not necessarily mean that the increase was due to dark lightning, the lack of elevated rates would seem to strongly suggest that dark lightning has no effect on the incidence of cancer of the population under study.

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Re: Compare to Dental X-Ray

SOMETHING should be studied.

On occasion, NOTHING should be studied.

The entire point of the study is peer review.

Hopefully...

I'll await a peer review. Been there, done that, sucked to be there, moved on.

Why can't YOU?

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Pint

Re: Compare to Dental X-Ray

sucked to be there, moved on

Wzrd1, why don't you try beer review...

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Anonymous Coward

If we were

Meant to fly we'd have been born with jet packs in our ar*e

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Anonymous Coward

Re: If we were

What do you think vindaloo is fuel for?

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Mushroom

Re: Compare to Dental X-Ray

" (And one could not unreasonably expect that elevated cancer rates would have been noted by flight crews long ago, if they exist.) "

Anecdotally (I used to work with Cabin Crew) - they are all well aware that they are part of a spike in cancer risk due to their job.

No proof of course but lots of hosties in their 40's, 50's and 60's have developed lots of nasty cancers that friends in their peer group have not.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Compare to Dental X-Ray

I might be missing something here but wouldn't an "in-depth study" (read: health survey) of flight crews to find elevated cancer rates be fairly easy to arrange?

Yes, you're maybe missing something. The moment this sort of research happens for real, airlines may be sued into oblivion by personnel on the basis of the then formalised conclusions. I suspect some shenanigans are already in play to avoid that.

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Holmes

Re: Compare to Dental X-Ray

some causality required here methinks... seems more likely to me to be caused by the Kgs of chemical crap they plaster all over their faces every morning....

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Re: Compare to Dental X-Ray

>No proof of course but lots of hosties in their 40's, 50's and 60's have developed lots of nasty cancers that friends in their peer group have not.

Presumably STDs are also caused by altitude then ?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Compare to Dental X-Ray

" (And one could not unreasonably expect that elevated cancer rates would have been noted by flight crews long ago, if they exist.) "

Yes indeed:

http://oem.bmj.com/content/60/11/805.full

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Re: Compare to Dental X-Ray

"seems more likely to me to be caused by the Kgs of chemical crap they plaster all over their faces every morning...."

Also by the fact that lots of them used to smoke to keep thin / look glamorous

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Re: Compare to Dental X-Ray

@Gordon 10

"No proof of course but lots of hosties in their 40's, 50's and 60's have developed lots of nasty cancers that friends in their peer group have not."

The biggest problem with the historical data is that there's no similar environment to compare with to eliminate the effects of passive smoking....

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Compare to Dental X-Ray

> Presumably STDs are also caused by altitude then ?

Well, if you can't get it up...

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FAIL

hundreds of chest x-rays worth of radiation

Hmm,

You would think in all the history of flight, photography, and thunderstorms we might have noticed planes landing (or crashing) with every piece of photographic film on board having hundreds of chest x-rays worth of exposure?

TGFs might exist, they might be worth investigating, but, the 'and they will kill you' bit sure looks like utter bollocks to me.

Utter bollocks without which this 'news' would not have been reported <sigh>.

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Re: hundreds of chest x-rays worth of radiation

Generally, when a plane crashes the film is either (a) burnt in the fire; or (b) destroyed by the actual impact. Add to this the fact that unless they suspected the cause of the crash to be radiation poisoning of the pilot(s), the investigators would not bother looking at the film... which would then likely be thrown away anyway.

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Re: hundreds of chest x-rays worth of radiation

How sensitive is film to x-rays? Not very, as far as I know, without specialist emulsions. I seem to recall that 'x-ray film' in a hospital context is exposed to the light from a fluorescent sheet which *is* excited by the x-rays.

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JDX
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Re: hundreds of chest x-rays worth of radiation

Good to know JP19 is here to refute people who actually study physics for a living.

Nowhere did the article say dark lightning risks x-ray exposure. gamma rays are not x-rays (well there's a cross-over but the principle applies).

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Re: hundreds of chest x-rays worth of radiation (Neoc)

At what point did anyone mention planes crashing? A plane is not going to crash because the pilot received a dose of radiation so your entire post is useless nonsense. I recommend classes in reading comprehension and reading the whole article before you post comments to avoid embarassing yourself further.

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Re: hundreds of chest x-rays worth of radiation (Neoc)

"At what point did anyone mention planes crashing?"

I mentioned it as a (possible) alternative to landing because flying through thunder storms where TGFs might be experienced risks direct lightning strikes which we know have caused multiple plane crashes.

I will assume you comment was directed at Neoc.

All photographic film is sensitive to high energy particle exposure. We have had decades of planes carrying photographic film from holiday snaps to reconnaissance photograph to just plain cargo. If planes have been experiencing huge high energy particle exposure events we would have had evidence for decades.

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Photographers' anecdotes

You used to be able to request manual search of film cans to avoid "fogging" due to airport x-rays, but due to improvements in both emulsion and scanner tech, that's not a problem any more. But the fogging was always debated as to whether it was real or imagined. Perhaps the old stories of badly fogged film weren't down to security X-rays at all, but massive in-flight gamma exposure...?

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Re: hundreds of chest x-rays worth of radiation (Neoc)

@Irongut: "...avoid embarassing yourself further."

Says the commenter who apparently didn't read the post I was *replying* to but decided to flame me instead. JP19 mentions crashes, I was responding to that section of his (her?) comment.

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Happy

Value Add

The airlines should just put some film in the plane then sell whole body X-ray images to the passengers. Complimentary in First Class of course. And a guide to reading your X-ray available in the SkyMall catalog.

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Shame Kodak Went Bust

Shame Kodak went bust, just when they could start selling their photographic film again!

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Happy

Cathay cares!

I frequently have to travel trans-Pacific (Far East >> Canada - avoiding the USA and the TSA gorillas) and use Cathay Pacific often.

Of all the carriers only CX has a passenger health warning like this < http://www.cathaypacific.com/cpa/en_INTL/helpingyoutravel/insidethecabin#C > and their concern is sufficiently great to limit crews to two return flights per month.

On occasion, I have to make two return flights in a calendar month and CX flags my travel agent with a Cosmic Radiation warning. Imagine Expedia telling you?

Of all the carriers CX is the only one who considers this, dog airlines such as Air Canada, don't even warn their crews.

I expect to see a Dark Lightning warning on Cathay any day soon!

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Alert

ISS?

Sure, planes fly around storms, but what about the ISS passing directly overhead? And because these bursts are omnidirectional there is no inverse square law in play so distance is irrelevant.

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Re: ISS?

> because these bursts are omnidirectional there is no inverse square law in play so distance is irrelevant.

Not so sure about that. A growing spherical 'wavefront' area expands according to a square law, surely the intensity for any given area must decrease accordingly with distance?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ISS?

" these bursts are omnidirectional there is no inverse square law in play so distance is irrelevant"

You fail physics forever.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ISS?

"You fail physics forever."

And no re-sit.

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Re: ISS?

ROFL go back to the Daily Mail, you don't have the education to read The Register.

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Meh

Re: ISS?

Something about near and far fields? Although I don't think omnidirectional makes a difference there. Was it the near field that propagates at /r instead of /r^2.... so much EM theory that has leaked out of my brain now I just shuffle bits of a living.

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Facepalm

Re: ISS?

"And because these bursts are omnidirectional there is no inverse square law in play so distance is irrelevant."

Ummm..... so according your understanding of physics, since the sun also emits it's radiation omnidirectionally, there is no difference between it's effects here on Earth, and, ooh, say, at the surface of Mercury?

Wow.

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Re: ISS?

"You fail physics forever."

And no re-sit.

In fact, we don't even want you in the building (not classroom, building) where we teach it. No sense taking even the smallest chance it is contagious.

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Re: ISS?

Oops! I misunderstood "omnidirectionally" as "unidirectionally": I certainly do fail English forever. I believe my physics is still OK but I thank you all for your kind words.

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Coat

Re: ISS?

Go ahead. Dig it deeper.

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Thumb Up

I wonder if NASA got rid of the F-106 they used to use to test Avionics against electrostatic lightning, it would be perfect for this, especially as its already hardened. Plus, I kind of miss seeing it flying around in what looked like a completely random pattern, trying to get struck.

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Def
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Re: Trying to get struck

I read that as 'trying to get stuck' at first. Imagine what confusion that caused my poor overworked brain.

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re. "... electrons and positrons forced to interact.."

Where do all the positrons come from?

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Re: re. "... electrons and positrons forced to interact.."

Created as positron / electron pairs by gamma radiation or high-energy electrons. Rest mass of an electron is 0.511eV, so anything much above 1MeV can do it. Electric potential of a thunderstorm is 100s of MV.

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Joke

Re: re. "... electrons and positrons forced to interact.."

Cybertron. Damnit man, they've had a documentary series about that on DVD for years.

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Blue Jets, Sprites and Elves

Have been known to exist for years, and only just now they are looking into other forms of radiation that can be created by lightning?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: electrons/positrons are made of "light"

Not to be confused with the much inferior positrons as used by Microsoft.

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Holmes

Re: electrons/positrons are made of "light"

Jeez Eadon.

EVERYTHING is made of the same stuff. At the SAME TIME. This is why Feynman diagrams work.

The quantum wave function has nothing to do with an classical Maxwell electromagnetic wave. Different levels of phenomenology (and theory) altogether.

More in the amazing Quantum Theory in a Nutshell. Unfortunately for people just as myself, one has to have a pretty solid foundation in dog-standard Quantum Mechanics and the use of Lagrangians.

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Re: electrons/positrons are made of "light"

In Quantum physics, electron/positron pairs (and other particles) randomly come into existence. In the macroscopic scale this is balanced out by other pairs annihilating each other.

Create the right (energy) conditions and the probability of this happening rise dramatically.

That is effectively what they do at CERN (when they are not inventing the WWW).

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Devil

Re: Different levels of phenomenology (and theory) altogether.

Why is it that whenever I see or hear the word "phenomenology" I hear a dialogue starting with "Bomb, you are not to explode" and ending with "Let there be light"?

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Coat

"omnidirectional terrestrial gamma-ray flashes"

That might explain airline food.

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Re: "omnidirectional terrestrial gamma-ray flashes"

I'm sorry to disappoint you but NOTHING can explain airline food

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Pint

Re: "omnidirectional terrestrial gamma-ray flashes"

I'm sorry to disappoint you but there is no such thing as airline food. They do on occasion give you material they imply you should eat, but it fails to meet even one "food" criterion.

Except for the beer and peanuts.

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