‘Dark’ Lightning

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‘Dark’ Lightning

If you ever see a straight lightning bolt, take a picture. It could be one of the most important discoveries in the history of physics: confirmation of dark matter.

Dark matter appears to account for 85 percent of all matter in the universe. It exerts a gravitational pull on the “normal” matter around it. It produces no energy of its own, though, so no one knows what it is.

The leading idea says it consists of subatomic particles. Experiments have been set up to catch these particles, to no avail. Dark matter has remained stubbornly dark.

Some scientists have proposed that dark matter particles are much bigger and heavier than most models suggest — weighing a few grams or even ounces. There would be far fewer of these giant particles, which means fewer encounters with Earth — and almost no way to catch them.

Earlier this year, though, researchers proposed a way to “see” these jumbo particles: lightning. As such a particle zipped through Earth’s atmosphere, it would ram into atoms and molecules, giving them an electric charge. If it plowed such a pathway during a thunderstorm, it would be heavy enough and move fast enough to zip straight through the air, clearing a straight path for lightning.

So far, researchers have found no record of any straight lightning — perhaps because no one has looked for it. So the next time you’re in a thunderstorm, keep your camera handy — for the possible mark of dark matter.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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