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Print 34 comment(s) - last by HighWing.. on Apr 17 at 3:53 AM

Not quite the kite of the future, scientists use lasers to induce lightning in thunderclouds

Long since before Ben Franklin tried to electrocute himself in a thunderstorm, man has been curious about the beauty and power of lightning. Post-Franklin, our knowledge of the intricacies of atmospheric electrical discharge has grown by leaps and bounds. One thing we haven't quite figured out is how to reliably and safely trigger lightning strikes. Shooting rockets trailing conductive wire into thunderclouds has proved to be about fifty percent effective at producing a strike.

The idea of using lasers to provoke a discharge has been kicked around for thirty years and recently European researchers managed a small victory using high power pulsed laser beams. Though much more powerful than the lasers of yore, Teramobile's current laser lacks the power to bring a discharge to the ground.

The Teramobile project is an international program dedicated to researching the nonlinear propagation of high powered pulse lasers over great distances through the atmosphere. One of the focuses of the research is triggering lightning strikes using a mobile terawatt laser unit.

In this case, the lasers trigger lightning by producing plasma filaments inside thunderclouds. The filaments conduct electricity and can cause electrical discharge. However, the filaments created by the Teramobile laser were too small and dispersed too quickly to allow the discharge to carry for more than a few meters inside the cloud.

The tests were conducted at Langmuir Laboratory in New Mexico. The lab, perched upon the 10,500-foot South Baldy Peak, is equipped with instruments to study atmospheric electrical discharges. After firing the femtosecond-terawatt pulse laser into passing thunderclouds, analysis showed that the electrical activity in the target area was enhanced, alluding to small discharges within the cloud itself.

The ability to trigger lightning strikes could be beneficial in a number of industries. A better understanding of the effects of lightning strikes on aircraft, buildings, antennas, power lines, electrical systems and many other man-made technology would be useful in designing systems and devices that are better protected or more suited to use during them.

Lasers are also probably a lot safer than kite strings.



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How long?
By yodataco on 4/15/2008 1:00:08 PM , Rating: 2
How long before China uses this technology create lightning storms, so it can use all those "weather cannons" against the lightning storms at the Olympics?




RE: How long?
By FITCamaro on 4/15/2008 1:16:34 PM , Rating: 5
I'm still laughing that China is using AA guns to try to stop rain clouds. China has declared war on mother nature.


RE: How long?
By Master Kenobi (blog) on 4/15/2008 1:20:28 PM , Rating: 5
Einstein's Weather Control Device.

Capable of creating a catastrophic lightning storm in the vicinity!

Almost whimsical, but effective......


RE: How long?
By Gul Westfale on 4/15/2008 1:26:37 PM , Rating: 3
you might laugh, but this is somewhat common practice.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloud_seeding

i think using AA guns would make this more cost effective.


RE: How long?
By Master Kenobi (blog) on 4/15/2008 2:14:29 PM , Rating: 4
You definately missed it man.

quote:
In Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, the Allies can build the weather controller device superweapon, and direct thunderstorms to strike a selected location of the map every 10 game minutes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weather_control#Compu...


RE: How long?
By sporr on 4/16/2008 2:56:04 AM , Rating: 2
Damn you! I have been beaten to the Red Alert quote :)


RE: How long?
By judasmachine on 4/15/2008 1:39:07 PM , Rating: 2
I'm sure I'm just misunderstanding the science or reasoning for using triple A against thunderstorms, but wouldn't that unleash mass amounts of condensation nuclei?


RE: How long?
By Gul Westfale on 4/15/2008 1:46:10 PM , Rating: 2
the reasoning is a little like this:

- it's going to rain, no matter what
- but we can accelerate that and make it rain earlier while the clouds are still farther away

of course they don't shoot regular ammo in there, but stuff like dry ice for example. this can also be done to turn potential hailstorms into harmless rainstorms.


RE: How long?
By SlyNine on 4/15/2008 11:56:11 PM , Rating: 2
Tell that to the guy that gets nailed by a ball of dry ice. Sarcasm alert.


RE: How long?
By Fnoob on 4/16/2008 7:34:23 PM , Rating: 2
I think this is more an excuse to show off military might to intimidate rivals and inspire nationalism within.

As an added bonus, they can be certain to dissuade any wayward Cessnas (possibly with bare asses hanging out with a 'Free Tibet' flags planted in them)...


RE: How long?
By TITAN1080 on 4/15/2008 3:39:58 PM , Rating: 1
So my green laser pointer I use for astronomy won't work?

I think I'll try it anyway...;P


collecting discharge
By HrilL on 4/15/2008 12:45:17 PM , Rating: 4
My first thoughts were of would it be able to collect these discharges once they are able to get them to go to the ground of course and use it for power. Of course there are probably too many factors that would make this not economicly viable. One being it would have to be in a area with lots of storms. Two would you gain a great enough percentage of power then was used by the laser. And three could capacitors be made that can accept a discharge that quick and great?




RE: collecting discharge
By JustTom on 4/15/2008 12:53:30 PM , Rating: 2
Four would you be able to aim the lightning strike accurately enough to collect the energy.

You could probably keep counting forever.


RE: collecting discharge
By StormEffect on 4/15/2008 2:21:22 PM , Rating: 3
The problems with using lightning bolts as a power source are:
1. Too much power too fast, it can only be used instantaneously because we don't have the kind of technology needed to store it properly or fast enough(maybe with massive flywheels?).

2. Lightning is DC current and would have to be converted to AC current.

3. Every lightning bolt is different, creating a system capable of converting random lightning bolts into a uniform charge would be difficult.


RE: collecting discharge
By DokGonzo on 4/15/2008 3:58:43 PM , Rating: 5
The trick is getting the lightning bolt to hit the clock tower at exactly 10:02, the very instant the hook from the time machine touches the cable, thus propelling it back... to the future!

Wait, what?


RE: collecting discharge
By shabodah on 4/15/2008 6:55:54 PM , Rating: 2
No need to convert to AC unless you'll be transporting the energy. The vast majority of electronics convert AC back to DC.


RE: collecting discharge
By Kougar on 4/15/2008 5:45:14 PM , Rating: 2
That was exactly my thought as well. If lightning follows the path of the laser then it shouldn't require a very large area with receiving attenaes to attract the strike?

As for the other comments... new storm fronts roll across the US just about weekly, some areas even more so. DC to AC conversion we can do, that is the easy part. We just need to store it as a DC current... recall that our cars use DC batteries for example.

With lightning the voltage + amps can both be off the scale, so the power gained should easily be more than expended by a laser. My thought is, we probably can't trap the energy from a lightning strike, but I bet we could sap some of it before the lightning itself fully dissipates into the ground! Even catching just a fraction of the power should be enough to make it worthwhile... whereupon it can be transferred elsewhere for the next strike to take place.


RE: collecting discharge
By Alexstarfire on 4/16/2008 12:58:30 AM , Rating: 2
Well, I'm sure this can be done in the future, but probably not ATM. Though, if we strung up enough capacitors and had the charge disperse between all of them.... just maybe. Course, since lightning strikes are random I doubt it'd be put into place. I think eventually we will take advantage of mother nature, but it's simply not feasible ATM.


A weapon?
By HighWing on 4/15/2008 1:35:03 PM , Rating: 1
Personally my first thought was that this could be a bad thing. Granted getting lighting to strike an object to see how it reacts for testing is a good thing. But what about on the battlefield? If your enemy is capable of causing lighting to strike your ground troops and basses, that could be a major problem. While we me be able to make some vehicle's resistant, what about the communication equipment inside the mobile base? and as far as I know, while it's not 100% fatal, I don't think troops would be ready to fight after being struck by lighting once, if not many times.




RE: A weapon?
By BadAcid on 4/15/2008 3:25:14 PM , Rating: 2
Directing a lightning strike to short out electrical equipment in a communications tent/vehicle vs. a guided missile to kill everyone inside, I'd think the lightning would be more humane than current methods. And cheaper.

Also, addressing the efficiency problem with using this as a power source, I'd imagine the laser pulse would consume less power than the lightning strike would produce, assuming you had a fairly good way to harness it (which we don't as stated). The lightning strike is a discharge of already built up potential, so the pulse acts as more of a catalyst than an actual energy source to induce the strike. The shortfall would come from the fact that the lightning strikes would not be as powerful as natural strikes, simply because if it was, it'd discharge on its own. Instead, the discharge is being induced by the laser before it reaches a threshold potential for a natural discharge.


RE: A weapon?
By HighWing on 4/17/2008 3:53:02 AM , Rating: 2
I seriously have to ask how you could define a lighting strike as more humane then a bombing strike? If anything I would think a lighting strike could actually fall under the category or cruel and unusual punishment. Simply because even if it doesn't kill you, it would still cause immense pain, muscle twitches, possible loss of bowls, or even organ failure that could lead to a long and painful death, among a long list of other things.

quote:
The shortfall would come from the fact that the lightning strikes would not be as powerful as natural strikes


Even if that was the case, they would probably still contain enough power to do anything I mentioned above. There are various research centers around the world that have lightning generators. And even though none of them are even close to %50 the power of a natural lighting strike, they still poses the power to kill a human if struck.


RE: A weapon?
By Reclaimer77 on 4/16/2008 12:08:02 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Personally my first thought was that this could be a bad thing. Granted getting lighting to strike an object to see how it reacts for testing is a good thing. But what about on the battlefield? If your enemy is capable of causing lighting to strike your ground troops and basses, that could be a major problem. While we me be able to make some vehicle's resistant, what about the communication equipment inside the mobile base? and as far as I know, while it's not 100% fatal, I don't think troops would be ready to fight after being struck by lighting once, if not many times.


Uhhh are you serious ? Conventional weapons are a THOUSAND times more accurate and effective than trying to manipulate lightning strikes. I mean... I can't even comprehend why anyone would attempt to use this over conventional weapons.


RE: A weapon?
By HighWing on 4/17/2008 3:44:29 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
I can't even comprehend why anyone would attempt to use this over conventional weapons.


Have you ever heard of a thing called a surge? Maybe your not aware of this, but Lighting causes electrical surges when it strikes objects. And most electronic devices (basically anything that plugs into the wall or has a battery) can and will usually stop working if it gets a surge anywhere close to what a lightning strike would produce. And the ability to take out your enemy's communication electronics can be just as effective as bombing them. Basically think of the bond film Goldeneye, only with lighting instead of a big satellite in space.


Fantastic
By v1001 on 4/15/2008 12:45:59 PM , Rating: 3
Awesome *Puts on Pink Floyd and waits for the laser lightning show*




RE: Fantastic
By GhandiInstinct on 4/15/08, Rating: 0
RE: Fantastic
By HrilL on 4/15/2008 1:27:18 PM , Rating: 1
Just because you don't see a mosh pit as fun doesn't mean others don't. First off you don't have to go in a mosh pit so it shouldn't effect you at all. No one makes you go into them.

Secondly everyone that moshes knows the risks of moshing. You can have a clean and fun concert while others will get down and dirty in the pit.

Lastly its called freemon of choice and expression. Like I already said you don't have to take part in such activities. Oh and to a lot of people that's what going to a concert is all about if you just want to listen to the music stay at home. Or stay in the back where it is safe. Next thing you'll be complaining that the music is too loud and that they should turn it down.

Grow some hair on your chest and become a man. Assuming you are a male of course.


RE: Fantastic
By Mitch101 on 4/15/2008 1:48:42 PM , Rating: 2
I used to bounce for Mosh pits and you do get a few who don't grasp the concept that they will get hit in ways they don't expect. Yes the ones that get hit wrong and they start a fight.

Maybe with the laser we can remove those individuals who just don't understand a Mosh pit contains a random factor.


RE: Fantastic
By BruceLeet on 4/16/2008 3:52:31 AM , Rating: 1
You've obviously never been to a Metallica concert my friend, doubt you've been to a live gig also.


By Reclaimer77 on 4/15/2008 6:11:54 PM , Rating: 2
An innocent weather experiment goes wrong in New Mexico when a laser is used to produce a super storm of devastating lightning strikes !!!




By Hakuryu on 4/15/2008 7:49:35 PM , Rating: 3
Starring five people you never heard of and Dean Cain.


Screw the Hadron Collider....
By Marty McFly on 4/15/2008 10:42:52 PM , Rating: 2
I don't think you guys realize just how heavy this is.

I mean if we can get this working and the Doc can get the Delorian out of hock, I can finally go home!




RE: Screw the Hadron Collider....
By EODetroit on 4/16/2008 10:17:54 AM , Rating: 2
Heavy? Is there a problem with the earth's gravitational pull?


Hmmm
By kontorotsui on 4/16/2008 8:58:03 AM , Rating: 2
They could try to catch lightning strikes and store it using supercapacitators.
Or could make a weapon out of it.

Why I have a bad feeling about it?




Old Myth
By porkpie on 4/16/2008 10:18:36 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Long since before Ben Franklin tried to electrocute himself in a thunderstorm
FYI, that's a myth.
quote:
The question often arises whether or not Franklin actually did this experiment, and the answer is we do not know for sure. One thing, however, is certain: if he did do an experiment like this, he did not do it the way it is often shown. That is, he didn't tie a key to the kite string, fly it in a thunderstorm, and wait for it to be struck by lightning! Such an experiment would be very dramatic--and quite fatal.
http://www.mos.org/sln/toe/kite.html




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