A laser manages to divert rays towards the sky to avoid its impact on Earth

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A laser manages to divert beams into the sky to avoid hitting Earth

When Benjamin Franklin < strong>designed the first lightning rod In the 1750s after his famous experiment of flying a kite with a key attached during a thunderstorm, the American inventor had no way of knowing that this would still be the latest in technology was brought centuries later.

Scientists are now moving to improve upon that 18th century innovation with 21st century technology through a system that employs a High power laser that can revolutionize lightning protection.

Researchers announced Monday that they managed to use a A laser was directed into the sky from the top of Mount Santis in north-eastern Switzerland to deflect lightning.

With further development, this laser arrester could protect critical infrastructure, including power plants, airports, wind farms and oil platforms. launch.Lightning inflicts billions of dollars in damageIt kills buildings, communication systems, power lines and electrical equipment each year, while killing thousands of people.

The Experiment

The team was transported to the top of the mountain at an altitude of approximately 8,200 feet (2,500 meters), some parts using a gondola and others by helicopter, and headed to the top of the mountain. He took to the sky atop a 400-foot-tall (124-meter-tall) transmission tower of the telecommunications provider Swisscom, one of the European structures hardest hit by lightning strikes.

In experiments conducted over two months in 2021, intense laser pulses were emitted 1,000 times per second to redirect the beams. The four hits received while the system was active were successfully intercepted. First, the researchers used two high-speed cameras to record the redirection of the beam's path over 160 feet (50 meters). Three others were documented with different data.

“We showed for the first time that a laser can be used to guide natural rays,” said physicist Aurelien Houard of the Ecole Polytechnique Applied Optics Laboratory. in France, coordinator of the Laser Lightning Rod project and lead author of the research published in the journal Nature Photonics.

Lightning is a high-voltage electrical discharge between a cloud and the ground, within a cloud, or between clouds.

“An intense laser can generate long columns of plasmas in its path in the atmosphere with electrons, ions and hot air molecules,” Houard said, referring to particles. positively charged particles called ions and negatively charged particles called electrons.

“We have shown here that these plasma columns can act as a guide for the rays,” added Dr. Hourd. “It's important because it's the first step toward laser-based lightning protection that could practically reach a height of hundreds of meters (yards) or a kilometer (0.6 miles) with enough laser energy.”

The laser device is about the size of a large car and weighs more than 3 tons.It uses lasers from the German industrial machine manufacturer Trumpf Group. With scientists from the University of Geneva also playing a key role, the experiments were conducted in collaboration with the aerospace company ArianeGroup, a European joint venture between Airbus SE and Safran SA.

This concept, first proposed in the 1970s, has worked under laboratory conditions, but so far not in the field.

Dating back to Franklin's time, lightning rods are metal rods on top of buildings, connected to the ground with a wire, that conduct electrical charges from the buildings. rays to the ground harmlessly.

Its limitations include protecting only a small area. Houard anticipated that. He suggested that it would take 10 to 15 more years of work before the Laser Lightning Rod could be in common use.

One concern is avoiding interference with aircraft in flight. In fact, air traffic in the area stopped when the researchers used the laser. “There is a potential problem when using the system with air traffic in the area because the laser could damage the pilot's eyes if they cross the laser beam and look down”, Hoard said.