Stories tagged Benjamin Franklin

The catalpa trees are blossoming

I think they are a few weeks later this year.

Apr
25
2008

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.