Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Harnessing lightning strikes has been a fascination since Benjamin Franklin conducted his famous kite experiments. Strikes have been deliberately conducted to the ground by rockets spooling long wires behind them, but that technique has only been successful about 50 percent of the time. Now a team of European scientists has triggered lightning strikes with ground-based lasers. The goal is to create miles-long plasma filaments that would extend from clouds to the ground, providing an economical conduit—akin to Franklin's kite string—to channel surefire strikes for the purpose of studying lightning's mechanisms and its effects on infrastructure. As the lasers penetrate the atmosphere, they create plasma filaments along their path, then trigger lightning discharges that travel back down the filament to terra firma. The end goal is to expand scientists' understanding of lightning as well as test the lightning sensitivity of airplanes, powerlines and other critical infrastructure features and systems that are vulnerable to damage by strikes.
Posted by R. Colin Johnson at 1:03 PM