During an experiment carried out in South Baldy Peak, New Mexico, European researchers using a high-power laser deliberately triggered electrical activity in two passing thunderstorms. Laser pulses created plasma filaments inside the clouds, through which electric current was discharged inside the clouds. However, no air-to-cloud lightning was created, because the plasma filaments
produced by the laser were too short-lived to trigger such a discharge.
“This was an important first step toward triggering lightning strikes with laser beams. It was the first time we generated lightning precursors in a thundercloud,” said Jérôme Kasparian from the University of Lyon. To create a fully developed lightning discharge, the team would have to reconfigure the laser system so that the laser beams be fired in a sequence that would make longer-lived filaments.
Lightning strikes allow scientists not only to determine the mechanism through which they are produced, but also to test lightning sensitive instruments on board airplanes and the infrastructure used in power lines. Pulsed laser beams trigger lightning by ionizing molecules in the air, practically turning them into a plasma gas that acts very similar to a conductor. More traditional approaches to trigger lightning strikes into desired areas involve shooting into the cloud small missiles attached to the target through a small conductor wire.
Umm, cool? Or is it hot? I’m never sure nowadays.