Scientists use laser beam to divert lightning strikes

Lightning strike. [Photo: Wikimedia]

In a new invention, scientists have discovered a way to redirect lightning bolts using lasers for the first time.

According to the journal Nature Photonics, the scientists used a powerful laser device the size of a large car, which emitted powerful pulses aimed at thunderclouds at the top of the Säntis mountain in Switzerland.

Aurélein Houard, the study’s lead researcher and physicist at École Polytechnique in Palaiseau, explained that metal rods are used in many different places to curb lightning. Still, the protection is limited to a “few” or “tens of metres away.”

“The hope is to extend that protection to a few hundred metres if we have enough energy in the laser,” Houard said.

Houard, alongside the other scientists, shared how they used the powerful laser at the top of the mountain. They placed it close to a 124m-high telecoms tower that gets hit by lightning around 100 times a year.

From July to September 2021, they fired intense laser pulses at 1,000 times per second. All four lightning strikes that occurred while the system was active were successfully interupted.

In the first experiment, the researchers used two high-speed cameras to document the redirection of the lightning’s path by more than 50 meters. Three others were recorded with different data.

“We demonstrate for the first time that a laser can be used to guide natural lightning,” Houard said.

Still, Houard believes that it will take another decade or more of work would be needed for the discovery to be used commonly.

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