Lightning is Controlled with Lasers for the First Time

Lightning Is Controlled With Lasers For The First Time
Lightning Is Controlled With Lasers For The First Time

A test carried out amid intense storms on a mountaintop in Switzerland claims scientists have directed lightning with lasers for the first time in the real world.

This achievement paves the way for laser-based lightning protection systems in airports, launch pads and high-rise buildings. Powerful laser pulses were fired at thunderclouds over the months last year.

Aurélien Houard, a physicist at the École Polytechnique in Palaiseau, said: "Metal rods are used almost everywhere for lightning protection, but the range they can protect is limited to a few meters or tens of meters."

“If we have enough energy in the laser, we hope to extend this protection to several hundred meters.”

Large electrical discharges like lightning can travel up to three miles. A lightning bolt carries a charge so strong that it can reach 30.000C, or about five times the temperature of the sun's surface. More than a billion lightning strikes the Earth each year, causing tens of billions of dollars in damage, thousands of deaths and ten times as many injuries.

Traditional lightning rods date back to Benjamin Franklin, who was storm chasing on horseback before his famous kite experiment in 1752. More recently, however, scientists have sought alternative strategies to protect structures and other objects from harmful effects.

Houard from Switzerland and his colleagues describe in the journal Nature Photonics how they carried a powerful laser to the summit of Säntis mountain in northeastern Switzerland and set it up near a 100-metre-tall telecom tower that is struck by lightning about 124 times a year. .

Researchers fired fast laser pulses at thunderclouds for more than six hours between July and September of last year after waiting for the storms to form. According to the equipment installed for recording lightning strikes, four upward lightning discharges were deflected by the laser during the experiment.

Only one lightning bolt (July 21) occurred in conditions clear enough for researchers to photograph the lightning's path from miles away in two directions using high-speed cameras. Video evidence shows that lightning was guided by laser pulses as it traveled along its course for about 50 meters.

The laser deflects lightning by making an easier channel for the electrical discharge to flow down. When laser pulses are launched into the sky, the refractive index of the air changes, causing the pulses to condense and become strong enough to ionize nearby air molecules.

The result is a long chain of sky structures known as filaments, in which air molecules heat up rapidly and escape at supersonic speeds, leaving a channel of low-density, ionized air. These millisecond-long channels are more electrically conductive than the surrounding air, creating a smoother path for lightning to pass through.

Air traffic over the test area was halted during the experiment, as the laser posed a potential risk to the eyes of overhead pilots. But the technique could still be valuable, as no-fly zones are often set near launch pads and airports, according to the researchers. Houard stressed the importance of considering this security issue.

He noted that more powerful lasers with various working wavelengths could direct lightning over larger areas and perhaps initiate it before it poses a threat. According to Houard, you prevent lightning from going where you cannot control it.

According to Professor Manu Haddad, director of Cardiff University's Morgan-Botti Lightning Laboratory, “the cost of the laser system is quite high compared to a simple stick.” To protect vital ground installations and equipment from lightning damage, lasers may be a more reliable approach to directing a lightning discharge.

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Günceleme: 19/01/2023 11:00

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