Articles | Volume 13, issue 4
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 13, 1127–1133, 2013
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 13, 1127–1133, 2013

Research article 30 Apr 2013

Research article | 30 Apr 2013

Possible effects on avionics induced by terrestrial gamma-ray flashes

M. Tavani1,2,3, A. Argan4, A. Paccagnella5, A. Pesoli2, F. Palma2,3, S. Gerardin5, M. Bagatin5, A. Trois6, P. Picozza2,3, P. Benvenuti7, E. Flamini8, M. Marisaldi9, C. Pittori10,11, and P. Giommi11 M. Tavani et al.
  • 1INAF-IAPS, via del Fosso del Cavaliere 100, 00133 Rome, Italy
  • 2University of Rome Tor Vergata, Department of Physics, via della Ricerca Scientifica 1, 00133, Rome, Italy
  • 3INFN Roma "Tor Vergata", via della Ricerca Scientifica 1, 00133 Rome, Italy
  • 4INAF, Viale del Parco Mellini 84, Rome, Italy
  • 5University of Padova, Department of Information Engineering, Via Gradenigo 6B, 35131 Padova, Italy
  • 6INAF-Osservatorio Astronomico di Cagliari, Localit√† Poggio dei Pini, Strada 54, 09012 Capoterra, Italy
  • 7University of Padova, Department of Physics and Astronomy "G. Galilei", vicolo dell'Osservatorio 3, 35122, Padova, Italy
  • 8Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, viale Liegi 26, 00198 Rome, Italy
  • 9INAF-IASF, via Gobetti 101, 40129 Bologna, Italy
  • 10INAF Osservatorio Astronomico di Roma, via di Frascati 33, 00040 Monte Porzio Catone, Italy
  • 11ASI Science Data Center, Via E. Fermi 45, 00044 Frascati (Rome), Italy

Abstract. Terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs) are impulsive (intrinsically sub-millisecond) events associated with lightning in powerful thunderstorms. TGFs turn out to be very powerful natural accelerators known to accelerate particles and generate radiation up to hundreds of MeV energies. The number ratio of TGFs over normal lightning has been measured in tropical regions to be near 10−4. We address in this Article the issue of the possible susceptibility of typical aircraft electronics exposed to TGF particle, gamma ray and neutron irradiation. We consider possible scenarios regarding the intensity, the duration, and geometry of TGFs influencing nearby aircraft, and study their effects on electronic equipment. We calculate, for different assumptions, the total dose and the dose-rate, and estimate single-event-effects. We find that in addition to the electromagnetic component (electrons/positrons, gamma rays) also secondary neutrons produced by gamma-ray photo production in the aircraft structure substantially contribute to single-event effects in critical semiconductors components. Depending on the physical characteristics and geometry, TGFs may deliver a large flux of neutrons within a few milliseconds in an aircraft. This flux is calculated to be orders of magnitude larger than the natural cosmic-ray background, and may constitute a serious hazard to aircraft electronic equipment. We present a series of numerical simulations supporting our conclusions. Our results suggest the necessity of dedicated measurement campaigns addressing the radiative and particle environment of aircraft near or within thunderstorms.