Scientists Divert Lightning Strikes Using a Powerful, Car-Sized Laser - CNET

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As NASA battled to get its immense next-generation satellite rocket to the launchpad successful aboriginal 2022, it had to contend with immoderate terrible and disfigured Floridian weather. A tempest strategy moved in, replete with rains and lightning, threatening the rocket arsenic it waited connected the pad for its motorboat rehearsal. During the storms, the motorboat portion was deed by lightning 4 times.

Fortunately, NASA had protected the pad with its lightning towers -- giant, metallic structures designed to pull lightning and safely transportation the complaint to the ground. The basal plan and thought down a lightning operation hasn't changed overmuch since its invention successful the 18th century. But successful 2021, scientists successful north-eastern Switzerland were experimenting with a antithetic benignant of lightning tower. 

Cue the Dr. Evil voice: Giant freakin' laser beams.

A 3D reconstruction of the lightning onslaught connected July 24, 2021.

Scientify – UNIGE

In a study, published connected Monday successful the diary Nature Photonics, researchers picture their attempts to usher lightning with a laser beam connected the apical of the picturesque Säntis upland astatine an altitude of implicit 8,000 feet. 

During the summertime of 2021, scientists installed a fast-pulsing laser, astir the size of a car, adjacent to a telecommunications operation connected Säntis. Between July and September of that year, the picosecond laser -- which fires astatine astir 1,000 pulses each second, was operated for much than 6 hours of thunderstorm activity. During observation, the comms operation was deed astatine slightest sixteen times, with 4 of those happening during laser activity. (Yes, lightning does onslaught twice... and sometimes much than that.)

One peculiar strike, connected July 24, 2021, was captured successful large detail. The skies were wide capable for high-speed cameras to seizure the lightning strike, which appeared to travel the laser for astir 50 meters (approximately 165 feet). The installation besides had a VHF interferometer, which tin measurement the electromagnetic question enactment astir the site. It was besides imaginable to measurement the X-rays for respective of the laser-guided strikes.

Lightning is simply a analyzable phenomenon, caused by an imbalance successful affirmative and antagonistic charges betwixt tempest clouds and the ground. It doesn't ever question from a unreality to the ground, either. Often, lightning volition besides question upward. The squad saw that lightning strikes occurring astatine Säntis were mostly upward strikes, which is successful accordance with astir of the strikes successful the region.

As the researchers enactment successful the discussion, guiding lightning strikes with laser pulses has been tried a mates of times before, successful 2004 and 2011. These attempts were unsuccessful, truthful wherefore did the Säntis upland run spell truthful well?

The squad reasoned that the repetition complaint of the laser -- however accelerated it's pulsing -- played a large role. The repetition of this peculiar laser is 2 orders of magnitude higher than erstwhile experiments and whitethorn person allowed for interception of immoderate lightning precursors processing supra the tower. Further laser-guided lightning campaigns volition beryllium indispensable to afloat recognize however this elephantine frickin' laser did the job.

That's a bully thing. With astir 40 to 120 lightning strikes occurring each 2nd connected Earth, there's a decent chunk of area, infrastructure and quality beingness that needs protecting. There's besides the information that clime change, expanding populations and larger metropolitan areas volition warrant an intensification of lightning hazards to humanity, according to a 2018 insubstantial successful the diary Environmental Research Letters. 

Lasers, though, person their ain issues. For instance, it wouldn't look omniscient to usage a laser astir an progressive aerial tract -- and the researchers enactment successful their methods they lone operated this peculiar laser erstwhile airspace was closed. However, the insubstantial notes this is an important archetypal measurement guardant successful the improvement of caller extortion methods for airports, launchpads and ample infrastructures.

Which means NASA's adjacent satellite ngo mightiness not person to beryllium truthful acrophobic of that nasty Florida weather.

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