Published 21 January 2023 at 09.32
Start page. A powerful laser aimed at the sky can create a virtual lightning rod and divert lightning strikes, experiments conducted by researchers on a mountain in Switzerland show. The results could pave the way for better lightning protection measures for critical infrastructure such as power plants and airports.
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Today, the so-called Franklin rod is the most common design for lightning protection. It consists of a mast made of conductive metal that catches the lightning and directs it into the ground.
The idea of using intense laser pulses instead of a traditional lightning rod has previously been tested in laboratories. Researchers have now tested whether this is something that works in real thunderstorms, outside the lab. The experiments to investigate whether a laser could guide lightning in the event of an impact took place at Mount Säntis in northeastern Switzerland.
A laser the size of a car firing up to one thousand pulses per second was installed near a telecommunications tower that was hit by lightning about a hundred times a year.
After testing the laser for six hours in a thunderstorm, the researchers were able to determine that the laser redirected four upwardly directed lightning discharges. The observations could be confirmed by high-frequency electromagnetic waves generated by the lightning that showed where the impact occurred.
Observed increases in X-ray bursts at the time of the impacts also confirmed the successful redirections of the lightning. One of the impacts was filmed by high-speed cameras and can be seen following the direction of the laser for over 50 meters.
The authors of the scientific article state that their results contribute to new knowledge about laser physics in the atmosphere and that it can be used in the development of new lightning protection strategies.