Laser lightning rod electrifies scientists

Laser lightning rod electrifies scientists

Laser lightning rod electrifies scientists

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When Benjamin Franklin created the primary lightning rod within the 1750s following his well-known experiment of flying a kite with a key throughout lightning, the American inventor had no means of understanding it could stay the state-of-the-art for hundreds of years.

Scientists at the moment are trying to enhance on that 18th-century invention with Twenty first-century expertise — a system using a high-powered laser that might revolutionize lightning safety. Researchers mentioned Monday they’d succeeded in utilizing a laser aimed skyward from Mount Santis in northeastern Switzerland to deflect lightning.

With additional improvement, this laser lightning rod may defend vital infrastructure together with energy vegetation, airports, wind farms and launchpads. Lightning causes billions of {dollars} in injury yearly by damaging buildings, communications techniques, energy traces, and electrical tools and killing 1000’s of individuals.

The tools was carried to the highest of the mountain at an altitude of about 8,200 ft (2,500 m), some utilizing gondolas and others utilizing helicopters, and centered on the sky atop a 400-foot-tall (124-meter-tall) transmission. The tower of telecommunications supplier Swisscom is among the constructions most broken by lightning in Europe.

In a two-month experiment in 2021, intense laser pulses — 1,000 occasions per second — have been emitted to redirect lightning. 4 strikes have been efficiently intercepted whereas the system was energetic. Within the first occasion, the researchers used two high-speed cameras to file the redirection of lightning paths over 160 ft (50 meters). Three others have been recorded with completely different data.

“We’ve got proven for the primary time {that a} laser can be utilized for pure lightning,” mentioned physicist Aurelian Howard of the Laboratory of Utilized Optics at Ecole Polytechnique in France, coordinator of the Laser Lightning Rod undertaking and lead writer of the examine revealed within the journal Nature. Nature Photonics.

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

“An intense laser can create lengthy columns of plasma within the ambiance with electrons, ions and sizzling air molecules in its path,” Howard mentioned, referring to positively charged particles known as ions and negatively charged particles known as electrons.

“We have proven right here that these plasma columns can act as a information for lightning,” Howard added. “That is essential as a result of it is step one towards a laser-based lightning safety that may virtually attain heights of lots of of meters (yards) or a kilometer (0.6 miles) with adequate laser energy.”

The laser machine is the scale of a giant automobile and weighs greater than 3 tons. It makes use of lasers from German industrial machine manufacturing firm Trumpf Group. With scientists from the College of Geneva additionally taking part in a key function, the checks have been performed in collaboration with aerospace firm Ariane Group, a European three way partnership between Airbus SE and Safran SA.

This concept, first proposed within the Seventies, has labored in laboratory circumstances, however not within the area till now.

Lightning rods, relationship again to Franklin’s time, have been steel rods on high of buildings, related to the bottom by a wire, which performed {an electrical} cost to trigger lightning to strike the bottom seamlessly. Their limitations embrace defending solely a small space.

Howard estimated that 10 to fifteen extra years of labor could be wanted earlier than the laser lightning rod entered basic use. One concern is avoiding interference with plane in flight. In reality, air visitors within the space stopped whereas the researchers used the laser.

“Really, there is a potential downside with utilizing the system with air visitors within the space as a result of the laser can injury the pilot’s eyes if he crosses the laser beam and appears down,” Howard mentioned.

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Modifying by Lisa Schumacher)

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