Lasers to lightning: Playing with electricity in the sky

Laser lightning show: Scientists are finding that shooting lasers into storm clouds can initiate the early stages of a lightning strike. With more work and research, we might some day be able to defuse some of the dangers of lightning
Laser lightning show: Scientists are finding that shooting lasers into storm clouds can initiate the early stages of a lightning strike. With more work and research, we might some day be able to defuse some of the dangers of lightningCourtesy andrewomerknapp
If Benjamin Franklin were alive today, he’d be all over this.

Scientists in New Mexico have shot lasers into clouds in the sky overhead to trigger the early stages of lightning.

By shooting lasers into the sky, atoms are knocked free in a long, thin channel of air – about the length of a football field -- along the laser’s path. That opening, the scientists say, makes an easier path for lightning to go from cloud to ground.

Through these tests, the researchers measured electrical currents coming down from the sky in the laser’s path. The electricity levels were much lower than conventional lightning, however.

The new goal – to trigger actual lightning strikes – will be attempted using lasers that are ten times stronger than the previous laser beams.

Why would anyone want to cause lightning to happen? The researchers have come up with all kings of ideas. Pre-emptive lightning strikes when storms are brewing could diffuse the electricity building up in clouds that could lead to more powerful, dangerous natural lightning strikes. Triggering small lightning bursts in certain areas, like around airports, could make storm conditions less dangerous.

While the laser-driven attempts at sparking lightning are relatively new, scientists have been inducing lightning with rockets in the past. Small rockets are shot toward storm clouds. Attached to the rocket is a long, thing copper wire. One end of the wire is attached to the ground. As the rest of the wire soars toward the cloud, an electrically conductive link is formed. Electricity usually explodes the wire and a lightning bolt follows down that path to hit the Earth. But that rocket/wire method only works about half of the time.

So what do you think? Is using lasers to create lightning a good use of science? Are there some creative applications you can think for this? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

ARTiFactor's picture
ARTiFactor says:

Why not just fly kites with wire for string? Wouldn't that be easier and cheaper?

posted on Sat, 04/26/2008 - 11:02am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i'm wary of anything people do to modify natural processes using new technology. and thunderstorms are exciting., why would we want to make them less so?

posted on Sat, 04/26/2008 - 11:21am
Thor's picture
Thor says:

I know several people whose homes were struck by lightning (one even had lightning rods attached to the roof). After having to rewire their houses and replace a lot of electronics, I'd bet they'd like to have lightning diffused when storms are brewing.

posted on Mon, 04/28/2008 - 9:26am
Jefflemus00's picture
Jefflemus00 says:

Hm,I like the idea of using lazers to help diminish lightning for air travel,one of my biggest fears during flying.

posted on Tue, 04/29/2008 - 4:14pm
Amanda's picture
Amanda says:

i would like to see this in person but i would be scared what if something bad happens the lightning wont hit in the right spot or something

posted on Wed, 04/30/2008 - 10:08am
tiffany_88's picture
tiffany_88 says:

I'm scared when rain because the lightning had possibility to down more near of your house.

posted on Fri, 05/02/2008 - 9:41am
flinch619's picture
flinch619 says:

dont play with laserpointers in a thunderstorm kids


posted on Fri, 05/02/2008 - 10:12am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

but what if i wanft to play with laserpointers in a thunderstorm......what are you going to do about it????/

posted on Fri, 05/02/2008 - 11:14am
bella451001's picture

it says that MAY BE the danger is eliminated during the flights ........well i dont think that shooting lasers would be a good idea n i have a feeling that it would somehow effect the air like our atmosphere as discovered by a japenese scientist its already charged due to use of all these electronics ......shooting lasers can also charge the air n that is nt safe at all.

posted on Tue, 04/27/2010 - 2:14am

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