Scientists use high-powered lasers to deflect lightning strikes

When Benjamin Franklin made the first lightning rod in the 1750s after his famous experiment of flying a kite with a key attached during a thunderstorm, the American inventor had no idea that this would remain state of the art for centuries to come.

Scientists are now improving this 18th-century innovation with 21st-century technology — a system that uses a high-power laser that could revolutionize lightning protection. Researchers said Monday they managed to use a laser aimed at the sky from the summit of Mount Santis in north-eastern Switzerland to deflect lightning strikes.

The Laser Lightning Rod works by shooting rapid laser pulses high into the sky, effectively increasing the range of lightning strike protection.

The Laser Lightning Rod works by shooting rapid laser pulses high into the sky, effectively increasing the range of lightning strike protection.Credit:Martin Stollberg/Trump

With further development, this laser lightning rod could protect critical infrastructure such as power plants, airports, wind farms and launch pads. Lightning causes billions of dollars in damage to buildings, communication systems, power lines and electrical equipment every year, killing thousands of people.

The equipment was transported partly by gondola and partly by helicopter to the mountaintop at an altitude of around 2,500 meters and aimed at the sky above a 124-metre-high transmission mast of the telecommunications provider Swisscom, one of the European structures most affected by the lightning.

In two-month experiments in 2021, intense laser pulses were emitted – 1,000 times per second – to deflect lightning strikes. All four attacks while the system was active were successfully intercepted. First, the researchers recorded the deflection of the lightning path by more than 50 meters with two high-speed cameras. Three others were documented with different dates.

“We show for the first time that a laser can be used to guide natural lightning,” said physicist Aurelien Houard of the Laboratory of Applied Optics at the Ecole Polytechnique in France, coordinator of the Laser Lightning Rod project and lead author of the in the Journal published research results nature photonics.

Lightning in Lake Cargelligo in western NSW.

Lightning in Lake Cargelligo in western NSW.Credit:Nick Moir

Lightning is a high-voltage electrical discharge between a cloud and the ground, within a cloud, or between clouds.

“An intense laser can create long columns of plasma in the atmosphere along its path with electrons, ions and hot air molecules,” Houard said, referring to positively charged particles called ions and negatively charged particles called electrons.

https://www.smh.com.au/world/europe/scientists-use-high-power-laser-to-divert-lightning-strikes-20230117-p5cd0n.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_world Scientists use high-powered lasers to deflect lightning strikes

Callan Tansill

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