Anti-lightning lasers zap storms.

Laboratory Equipment wards off bad weather with a new finding… that lasers can be used to divert lightning strikes:

Currently, high-intensity lasers, produced with modern technology essentially disappear over distances greater than a few inches or several feet at best when focused tightly, due to diffraction – the same effect that makes a stick seem to “bend” when dipped into water. This makes them too short-ranged for applications such as diverting lightning.

The breakthrough lies in embedding the primary, high-intensity laser beam inside a second beam of lower intensity. As the primary beam travels through the air, the second beam – called dress beam – refuels it with energy and sustains the primary beam over much greater distances than were previously achievable. The researchers’ results were published in Nature Photonics.

“Think of two airplanes flying together, a small fighter jet accompanied by a large tanker,” says Maik Scheller, an assistant research professor

in the [University of Arizona] College of Optical Sciences, who led the experimental work leading to the publication. “Just like the large plane refuels the fighter jet in flight and greatly extends its range, our primary, high-intensity laser pulse is accompanied by a second laser pulse – the “dress” beam – which provides a constant energy supply to compensate for the energy loss of the primary laser beam as it travels farther from its source.”

Simulations performed by Matthew Mills at the Univ. of Central Florida have shown that by scaling the new laser technology to atmospheric proportions, the range of the laser filaments could reach 50 meters (165 feet) or more.

As the filaments travel through the air, they leave a channel of plasma in their wake – ionized molecules stripped of their electrons. Such plasma channels could be used as a path of least resistance to attract and channel lightning bolts.