A group of scientists said they were able to guide beams using laser technology for the first time.
In new work published in the journal Nature Photonics, international researchers said Monday that laser-induced filaments, formed in the sky using short, intense laser pulses, can guide lightning discharges over “considerable distances.”
The authors said they believe their experiment would lead to progress in lightning protection and lightning physics.
The demonstration was held on Säntis mountain in Switzerland during the summer of 2021.
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Using a high repetition rate terawatt laser, the equipment was installed next to a telecommunications tower that is one of the structures in Europe most affected by lightning.
The laser was activated whenever storm activity was forecast between June and September and the area had to be closed to air traffic in advance.
Intense laser pulses, at 1,000 times per second, were fired into storm clouds to redirect lightning.
The tower was struck by at least 16 lightning bolts, four of which occurred during laser activity. All four strikes were intercepted.
“Two separate high-speed cameras recorded the guidance of a negative beam upwards over a distance of 50 meters. The guidance of the negative beams by laser filaments was corroborated in three other cases by very high-frequency interferometric measurements, and the number of X-ray bursts detected during guided beam events was greatly increased,” the scientists said.
The device is the size of a large car, weighing more than three tons.
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It uses lasers from the German manufacturing company Trumpf Group.
With scientists at the University of Geneva Also playing a key role, the experiments were carried out in collaboration with the aerospace company ArianeGroup.
This concept, which was first proposed in the 1970s, has worked in laboratory conditions, but not in the field until now.
The university said in a statement that it took nearly a year to analyze the collected data, resulting in the determination that the laser could effectively guide the beams.
“The data analysis also demonstrates that the [Lightning Laser Rod (LLR)]unlike other lasers, it works even in difficult weather conditions, such as fog (often found on the summit of Säntis), which can stop the beam, as it literally goes through the clouds,” the university said.
The next step is to further increase the height of action of the laser, with the long-term goal of using the LLR to extend a 10-meter lightning rod by 500 meters.
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“This work paves the way for new atmospheric applications of ultrashort lasers and represents an important step forward in the development of laser-based lightning protection for airports, launch pads or large infrastructure,” the authors added.
Reuters contributed to this report.