Ride the Lightning

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Since they were developed in the 18th century, lightning rods have been shielding homes and buildings from dangerous charges from the sky.

These giant, metal structures attract lightning and safely carry the powerful charge to the ground.

Now, scientists have come up with giant laser beams that can replace the archaic rods, CNET reported.

In a new study, researchers wrote about their efforts to guide lightning with a laser beam on top of Switzerland’s Säntis mountain at an altitude of over 8,000 feet.

In 2021, the research team installed a fast-pulsing laser – about the size of a car – next to a telecommunications tower on Säntis. Known as the Laser Lightning Rod (LLR), the device can generate channels of ionized air with charged particles that can be used to guide lightning along its beam.

The picosecond laser, which fires at roughly 1,000 pulses per second, was used over more than six hours of thunderstorm activity between July and September of that year.

During those hours of operation, the team discovered that the LLR redirected the paths of four upward-lightning discharges, according to the Independent.

In one instance, clear skies allowed high-speed cameras to film one specific strike in great detail. The lightning strike appeared to track the laser for about 165 feet.

Researchers explained that the study could improve lightning protection systems for key infrastructure such as power plants, airports and launchpads.

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