Scientists Controlled Lightning With Lasers Aimed at the Sky In Breakthrough – DNyuz

Scientists Controlled Lightning With Lasers Aimed at the Sky In Breakthrough

For the first time in history, scientists have used lasers to harness lightning bolts and guide them into new trajectories, a breakthrough that could lead to enhanced protection from these dangerous strikes from the sky, reports a new study.

The idea of diverting lightning with lasers dates back decades, but the newly reported experiment, which took place on Switzerland’s Santis Mountain in the summer of 2021, is the first to finally demonstrate this process in the field.

There is nothing like the fearful flashes or thunderous booms that can be elicited from a thunderstorm. Though the odds of getting struck by lightning are very low, the consequences of these freak accidents are catastrophic: Thousands of people have been killed by lightning strikes, and countless more have suffered permanent injuries.

The advent of metal lightning rods has reduced the risk of lightning-related casualties in many regions, but the protective range of these devices is limited to their immediate vicinity. Shooting laser pulses into the sky, in contrast, could theoretically extend a virtual shield around much larger areas, but attempts to pioneer this technology have fallen short–until now.

Scientists led by Aurelien Houard, a researcher at ENSTA Paris at the Ecole Polytechnique, provide “the first field-result that experimentally demonstrates lightning guided by lasers” which represents “an important step forward in the development of a laser based lightning protection for airports, launchpads, or large infrastructures,” according to a study published on Monday in Nature Astronomy.

Houard was able to guide four lightning bolts “upward”, which is a type of bolt that strikes up from the ground using laser pulses. High-speed cameras recorded one of these intercepts, revealing that the lasers were able to guide a lightning strike for over 50 meters (164 feet). These findings indicate that lightning rods based on lasers can protect infrastructure for more than a mile, and at altitudes as high as several hundred metres.

“Lightning has fascinated and terrified humankind since time immemorial. Based on satellite data, the total lightning flash rate worldwide–including cloud-to-ground and cloud lightning–is estimated to be between 40 and 120 flashes per second , causing considerable damage and casualties,” the researchers said in the study.

“This is the first demonstration of laser-induced filaments, which are formed in the sky using short laser pulses. They can guide lightning discharges over large distances,” said the team. “We believe that this experimental breakthrough will lead to progress in lightning protection and lightning physics.”

The researchers achieved this milestone by installing a laser near a telecommunications tower on the mountain that is a hotspot for lightning strikes. The device fired laser pulses up into the skies during thunderstorms. This transforms air molecules and particles into plasma structures.

Houard and his colleagues used a variety of techniques to show that this plasma can attract and guide lightning discharges, though the team was only able to redirect upward strikes, which are far more common at Santis Mountain than the more familiar downward sky-to-ground strikes. The team is hopeful that further experiments will refine this technology to make it more accessible for critical infrastructure.

” The Santis experiment in the summer of 2021 provided evidence that lightning discharges are guided over significant distances by filaments created by intense, short laser pulses. This was the conclusion of the team in their study. “These preliminary results should be confirmed by additional campaigns with new configurations.”

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