By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower
Scientists in Switzerland have now demonstrated that laser pulses can divert lightning strikes. As the first major improvement to Benjamin Franklin's Lightning Rod, this has the potential to provide much greater protection to large infrastructure such as launch-pads and airports.
The experiment took place from 2021 July 21 to September 30 on Santis Mountain, on the northeastern tip of the Swiss Alps, using a green, infrared laser. At the summit of the mountain (altitude 8,200 feet / 2,500 meters), the laser was mounted near a 407 -foot / 124-meter telecommunications tower (which has its own Lightning Rod) and aimed at passing storm-clouds in the sky.
By firing the laser rapidly, in short, intense pulses (1,000 times per second), during thunderstorms, they were able to create a path for the lightning to specifically avoid striking the tower's tip (where the traditional Lightning Rod is located). In this experiment, lightning avoided the tower's tip four times within six hours.
Normally, this tower is struck by lightning about 100 times in one year. During the trial period, lightning struck the tower 12 times, while the laser was not being used.
Hence, the unpredictability of lightning strikes can lead to billions of dollars of damage each year, as well as occasional lives lost. So, finding a modern improvement to the Lightning Rod could save resources, as well as some lives.
This research was led by physicist Aurelien Houard of the French National Center for Scientific Research's Applied Optics Laboratory in Paris. The scientists' findings were published in the 2023 January 16 edition of the scientific journal Nature Photonics.
According to the published study, “Although this research field has been very active for more than 20 years, this is the first field-result that experimentally demonstrates lightning guided by lasers.” With only a couple exceptions, previous work had only occurred in physics laboratories, since 1974.
Past attempts at field tests of laser deflection of lightning in New Mexico (2004) and Singapore (2011) had not been successful. Although the reason for the past failures is not certain, the researchers speculate that the laser beams in the past experiments had not been as rapid as the laser pulses in the Swiss experiment.
Lightning is an electrostatic discharge (generated by the friction of ice clumps and rain drops in storm-clouds), within a cloud, between two clouds, or between the cloud and the ground. As negatively-charged electrons gather at a storm-cloud's base and attract a ground's positive charge, the electrons begin to overcome air resistance causing the ionization of air in a charged flow or path to the ground – a lightning bolt. This dissipates and temporarily neutralizes the charge with the release of approximately a gigajoule of energy.
Every second about a hundred lightning flashes can be found some place on our planet, or between clouds.
Lightning Rods protect buildings and other structures by providing a path for the electrical charge to more easily reach the ground, rather than traveling through the air for the entire distance. But, the protection is limited, due to the height of a Lightning Rod.
To extend the protection from lightning, the new laser pulses are used to provide a new pathway to the ground. The laser beam rapidly heats air molecules, which creates a channel of less dense air and an easier pathway to the ground. Whether a traditional Lightning Rod, or this new system of laser pulses, electricity always wants to follow the path of least resistance.
Lightning bolts release a wide range of electromagnetic radiation including radio waves (which can be heard as crackling and / or a large clap on AM and Short-Wave radios), light waves, and X-Rays. Lightning causes thunder, the sound from a shock wave in the vicinity of the electrical discharge, as air experiences a sudden increase in pressure.
Many people are aware of the “5-second rule”. When you see a lightning strike, count each second until thunder is heard. When you divide the total number of seconds between lightning and thunder by five, the result is an approximate distance in statute miles of the lightning bolt (and often the center of the thunderstorm) from your current location.
Earth is not the only planet with lightning. Jupiter and Saturn have been observed with lightning strikes, with major lightning bolts seeming to be common on Jupiter. Although not confirmed, NASA and Russian space probes suggest that lightning may also exist in the very dense and toxic atmosphere of Venus.
The original Lightning Rod was invented in 1750 by American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, who is considered America's first true scientist. While a lightning bolt may strike a Lightning Rod, the actual purpose of a Lightning Rod is to bleed-off excess electrical charge to the ground where the excess charge is dissipated, so the charge does not build-up to a dangerous lightning strike.
So, this new laser system would, indeed, be used to attract lightning strikes, when a Lightning Rod does not, or is not close enough to, bleed-off enough electrical charge. With extreme weather becoming more prevalent, due to Climate Change, this new type of protection from lightning could be used to protect many more tall structures.
Internet Links to Additional Information ---
Published Research - Abstract & Main Article: "Laser-guided lightning":
Link >>> https://www.nature.com/articles/s41566-022-01139-z?utm_medium=affiliate&utm_source=commission_junction&utm_campaign=CONR_PF018_ECOM_GL_PHSS_ALWYS_DEEPLINK&utm_content=textlink&utm_term=PID100052172&CJEVENT=b24eceef9d8f11ed817f3b8a0a82b836
Laser: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laser
Lightning: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightning
Lightning Rod: Link >>> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lightning_rod
Benjamin Franklin Invents Lightening Rod: Link >>> https://www.fi.edu/history-resources/franklins-lightning-rod
Tesla Coil (Artificial Lightning): Link >>> https://buhlplanetarium2.tripod.com/Buhlexhibits.htm#teslacoil
Friday, 2023 January 27.
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Author of History Web Sites on the Internet --
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* Adler Planetarium, Chicago: Link >>> http://adlerplanetarium.tripod.com
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