Scientists Use Lasers to Direct Lightning Strikes to Safe Critical Targets- Technology News, Firstpost

A team of European researchers and scientists said on Monday that they have succeeded in targeting lightning for the first time using a laser beam, hoping the method will help people avoid and possibly cause fatal lightning strikes in the future.

Direct from SciFi_ Scientists use lasers to direct lightning strikes to safe critical targets

Scientists hope that with lasers, they will be able to direct lightning strikes away from targets and critical infrastructure such as power plants and power grids to a safer area. They also hope that in this way people will be able to avoid fatal lightning strikes.

Worldwide, lightning strikes 40-120 times per second, killing more than 4,000 people each year and causing billions of dollars in damage.

However, the lightning rod, invented by American musician Benjamin Franklin in 1749, is still the primary defense against these pneumatic bolts.

Years ago, a group of scientists from six research institutes tried the same concept but they use a much more sophisticated and precise laser instead of a basic metal electrode.

Now, they explain the use of a laser beam, shot from a Swiss mountaintop, to direct a lightning bolt over 50 meters in a study just published in Nature Photonics.

Aurelien Houard, a physicist in ENSTA Paris’ Department of Applied Optics and lead author of the study, stated, “We wanted to provide the first evidence that lasers may have an effect on lightning, and are easier to aim.

But for future applications, “it would be better to shoot lightning,” Howard said.

How do you catch lightning?
Static energy that builds up in storm clouds or between clouds and the ground releases itself as lightning. The plasma, which is produced by the laser beam, heats the air with charged ions and electrons.

According to Howard, the air turns “partially conductive, and therefore a path favored by lightning.” In a similar experiment, conducted by scientists in New Mexico in 2004, their laser failed to catch lightning.

According to Howard, this laser failed because it did not produce enough pulses per second to ignite the lightning, which it does in fractions of a second. It was also difficult to “predict where the lightning will land,” he continued.

In the latest experiment, scientists left little to chance. They hauled a car-sized laser, which can fire up to a thousand light pulses per second, atop the 2,500-meter-high Mount Santis in northeastern Switzerland.

The summit is home to a communications tower that gets struck by lightning about 100 times a year. It took two years to build the powerful laser, and several weeks to transport it by cable car in sections. The huge containers that would carry the telescope eventually had to be lowered by helicopter.

The telescope focused the laser beam to maximum intensity at a spot about 150 meters in the air above the top of the 124-meter diameter. The beam is 20 centimeters in diameter at the beginning but narrows to just a few centimeters at the top.

Lightning ride
The researchers captured an image of their beam moving a lightning bolt 50 to 60 meters during a storm in the summer of 2021. Interferometric tests revealed that three other impacts were also directed.

The majority of lightning develops from precursors within clouds, however, if the electric field is strong enough, some lightning may also rise from the ground. “Once the ground is connected to the cloud, the current and strength of the lightning bolt becomes really apparent,” Howard added.

The scientist claimed that one of these ancestors is guided by a laser, which makes it “much faster than the others, and much straighter.” Then, before it lights up, it will be the first to connect to the cloud. This means that, in theory, this technology could be used to not only deflect lightning, but to trigger it in the first place.

This could allow scientists to better protect strategic facilities, such as airports or missile launchers, by igniting strikes at a time of their choosing. In practice, this would require high conductivity in laser plasmas, which scientists don’t think they’ve mastered yet.

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