Dark Lightning and Other Things Scientists Should Discover


Wow, what a crazy two weeks it has been in the world of lightning news. We haven’t had any really good lightning news for decades, maybe even centuries. Just when some of us were getting bored of the lightning sciences, suddenly the discovery of dark lightning!

It’s true that surges of gamma radiation in the atmosphere were identified way back in 1991, but it was only recently that these invisible electrical blooms were linked to thunderstorms and visible “bright” lightning. Hence the new moniker “dark lightning.”

So, basically, way up in those thunderheads, flashing and crackling around, along with the regular garden-variety lightning is freaky, invisible ghost lightning.

(That reminds me of a quote from the Augusten Borroughs reading we went to on Monday. He said, “The past doesn’t haunt us, we haunt the past.” He also said some stuff about time and all linear events being like a river and we’re the fixed point (the physical present) on the shore. Which reminds me of Heraclitus, actually, and his quote, “You never step twice into the same river.” Which makes one think, dark lightning was always there, just waiting to be discovered, even in Heraclitus’s time. Which makes one think about the sundry other things that must exist, that we don’t know. And how they aren’t given any meaning or context until we know them, so in some sense, are non-existent. Yet we exist in physical form and they exist in physical form, and physical forms interact, which means on some level, the mystic level, we must know they exist.)


Geekosystem.com is calling dark lightning, regular lightning’s “evil twin.” Livescience.com  is calling the pair a “one-two punch.” The Guardian says we don’t know if anyone has ever actually been hit by dark lightning but if we did get struck, say, in flight, it wouldn’t be pretty (the equivalent radiation of a full-body CT scan).

Scientists can’t say what it would feel like, but I’m going to guess. I’m going to say that being struck by dark lightning feels like a sharp, hard, slap on the back, only moreso (based on my childhood experience of repeatedly touching an electric fence at my grandparents’ cow pasture.)

Or maybe it feels like an extremely violating and pointless CT scan.

The truth is: the novelty and sexiness of dark lightning is on the wane. So, I have compiled a short list of other stuff I wish scientists would discover:

1) Dry Rain:


In between wet raindrops, scientists discover an intermingling shower of dry rain drops. Basically, dry rain drops would be falling, fluid, dry H2O. (I don’t know how this works; that’s up to science to discover). You could feel it kind of plinking on your head and arms and battering leaves and flowers. Like dark lightning, dry rain has been there all along, but because the wet rain drops always fall fast on the heels of the dry ones (by a hair’s breadth), we couldn’t tell what was going on.

2) Another Sea:

Who’s ready for a new sea? I am. For centuries we have been building up mythical, romantic, and let’s face it, erotic, energies around the same wine-dark Aegean (Homer), bottle-green Baltic (Grasse) and wet-chalk Adriatic (I made that up). Not to mention the Caspian and Black seas and their various romantic qualities. Isn’t it time we had a more modern, more novel, sea?

Seas are usually demarcated by land, but sometimes you can have a sea within a sea as in the case of the Sargasso Sea smack in the thick of the North Atlantic.


The Sargasso Sea, so named for its free-floating seaweed, is the center of a ring of currents known as a gyre. There are five major gyres in Earth’s oceans (moving clockwise or counter-clockwise). But wouldn’t it be great if scientists discovered some more?

But if they can’t, maybe the sea within the sea would just be an extra salty patch; or a plunging, deep pocket; or a super frothy area.


3) Anti-wind:

So we are all familiar with wind. It blows grit in our eyes and teeth, musses our hair, makes windmills go round and enables pinwheels to be less boring. Wind does other stuff too, like once it blew the baby blanket off my daughter when I put her outside in her car seat for a second. It can rip houses off of roofs and clot the air with white cottonwood “cotton” thick as snow in the middle of summer. Wind engenders many poignant moments…creating a current against which a butterfly can struggle, symbolically/ominously snuffing out candles, or provoking meditations on a drifting plastic bag. It makes men and women both appear more sexy as they walk down the street or star in music videos–hair whipping, clothes clinging to their bodies.

Wow, I just realized that I could (but probably shouldn’t, but probably will), write an entire blog just about wind.

BUT what I really want scientists to discover is anti-wind. Instead of thinking of a calm, still day as the absence of wind which is sort of negative, we could think of a calm day as rippling with anti-wind (I guess that’s also sort of negative). Anti-wind would be an intangible, but not non-existent, force–the countervailing force that neutralizes wind.

So if you step outside on a really still and clement day, you’d say, “Wow, there sure is a lot of anti-wind today.”

Those are my three suggestions to scientists. Dave (who is a scientist) thinks his kind should discover a pride of vegan lions that have beaten their claws into ploughshares. As a biologist who frequently cites the lack of altruism in the animal kingdom as backstory to the human condition, Dave probably finds the thought of vegan lions more hilarious than the rest of us.


5 thoughts on “Dark Lightning and Other Things Scientists Should Discover

  1. My only thought about anti wind is that it would be something similar to a vacuum. But I have been in winds that really suck, on a scale of nice warm comforting breeze – to that bitter biting cold wind experienced while walking dogs in January/February – these really suck).

  2. About discovering a new sea: in 2010 the Plastiki expedition visited a vast sea of plastic within the north Pacific. It is known variously as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the Pacific Trash Vortex, and the North Pacific Gyre. My daughter-in-law was aboard as photographer/videographer for a few weeks. You can read about it and see if it satisfies your criteria for Another Sea: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jul/11/plastiki-rothschild-plastic-bottle-catamaran

    1. I was kind of hoping for a pristine new sea, Lynn, but maybe I should take what I can get. Daniel, have you ever written a song about the various manifestations of wind? Because you should.

  3. I think that if regular wind blows everything out of place, anti-wind should put everything in order. Sort of like Mary Poppins…
    If I could ever get my boring old lab reports graded, maybe this scientist could start working on one of your recommended discoveries.

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