European and other scientists have announced that they have tested for the first time an alternative lightning rod: a powerful laser that, aimed at the sky, can prevent lightning from its path.
The achievement may lead to better lightning protection methods for critical infrastructure, such as power plants, airports, missile launch pads, etc.
As they report in their related publication in the photonics journal “Nature Photonics”, the researchers, led by Aurelien Ward of the Ecole Polytechnique de Paris, carried out experiments on a mountain in Switzerland. Near a telecommunications tower that gets struck by lightning about 100 times a year, they installed a laser the size of a large car, which sends up to 1,000 pulses a second into the sky.
During six hours of operation, in the middle of a lightning storm, the laser deflected four lightning bolts. They thus confirmed that the laser can deflect lightning and protect a target infrastructure.
To date, the most common protection is an electrically conductive metal rod, which guides the lightning safely to the ground. A moving laser beam aimed at the sky as a virtual lightning rod may offer an alternative. So far the idea has only been tested in the laboratory and not in real conditions.