It turns out there’s a lot more to lightning than just the flash.
Scientists have discovered that, in addition to the bright streaks of light we can see, there is a second form of lightning that we can’t. Invisible pulses of radiation — “dubbed dark lightning” — release bursts of powerful gamma radiation and X-rays, the Toronto Star notes.
Those forms of radiation are normally associated with astronomical phenomena like supernovae. Researchers say that dark lightning can transmit a million times the radiation seen in regular lightning bolts.
Unlike regular lightning, the energy in dark lightning is omnidirectional, meaning that a person struck by a dark lightning bolt would probably escape without obvious injury. But they would absorb a massive dose of radiation.
Airplanes passing through storms could also be hit by dark lightning. However, due to the way it discharges its energy, the planes would emerge without visible damage. Only a radiation detector could tell if the plane had been hit. Passengers on a plane hit by dark lightning would not be aware of the incident, but could receive a significant dose of dangerous radiation.
The risk of a dark lightning hit is low. Aircraft usually avoid thunderstorms and dark lightning bolts only occur at a rate of one per thousand regular lightning flashes.