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New technology could be used to control lightning

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Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 3:31 -

As heavy rain and the risk for thunderstorms looms over Atlantic Canada, scientists are coming one step closer to controlling lightning strikes.

Researchers at the University of Arizona and the University of Central Florida have developed a new type of laser technology that can send high-intensity laser beams through the atmosphere, at a much farther distance than ever before.

The breakthrough is the result of embedding a high-intensity laser beam inside a second, lower intensity beam.

As the primary beam travels the secondary beam refuels it, enabling it to travel great distances. 

"Think of two airplanes flying together, a small fighter jet accompanied by a large tanker," said Maik Scheller, an assistant research professor in the UA College of Optical Sciences, in a statement.


RELATED: Scientists use lightning to charge a cell phone


"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."

When the laser is fired, it leaves behind a channel of plasma. It's believed the plasma could act as a "path" for lightning bolts, encouraging them to hit the ground at a pre-determined location.

The work is still in the laboratory phase, but eventually, scientists hope it could be used to steer lightning away from buildings.

The complete study can be found in Nature Photonics.

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