Dark Lightning “Lights Up” The Sky

Generation of Dark Lightning

Credit: Studio Gohde

We all know that thunder can occur after lightning strikes, but did you know that something just as exciting happens before it does? Scientists have recently discovered the phenomenon they call “dark lightning.” This burst of high-energy gamma rays happens just before the flash of ordinary lightning. And while they still aren’t sure how, researchers think there’s a connection between both flavors of lightning. Just last week, researchers from Norway announced new findings on dark lightning via this press release from the American Geophysical Union (AGU).

While the AGU release talks about the latest news on dark lightning, it’s not the first. Scientists using telescopes designed for the deepest reaches of space have also contributed to learning more about what physical processes happen in conjunction with lightning. The Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope, a NASA satellite that was launched into orbit in 2008, found evidence that lightning strikes were generating antimatter blasts heading out into space.

Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/J. Dwyer, Florida Inst. of Technology

Even though all of the details surrounding lightning aren’t known, it’s clear that there’s more to this ‘ordinary’ phenomenon than meets the eye. It’s also an excellent example how scientists from different disciplines can learn from each other while investigating interesting science no matter where it’s found.

–Megan Watzke, CXC

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