A powerful infrared laser that sits atop the Santis mountain in Switzerland can reportedly grab hold of lightning and redirect it’s path through the sky, researchers reported online in Nature Photonics on January 16th.
Scientists have used lasers to wrangle electricity in the lab before, but this is the first demonstration that the technique works in real-world storms and there is hope that it can someday lead to improved protection against the danger of lightning.
“If you want to protect some large infrastructure, like an airport or a launching pad for rockets or a wind farm … then you would need, for good protection, a lightning rod of kilometer size, or hundreds of meters,” Aurélien Houard, a physicist at Institut Polytechnique de Paris in Palaiseau, France said, according to ScienceNews. “This is a first step toward a kilometric-range lightning rod.”
“It’s a real achievement,” Howard Milchberg, a physicist at the University of Maryland in College Park, who is not involved in the work, said.
“They only showed 50 meters of [guiding] length, and most lightning channels are kilometers long,” atmospheric and space scientist Robert Holzworth of the University of Washington in Seattle said.