Europe

Controlling lightning with a massive laser

Published 3:56 AM ET, Mon July 12, 2021
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An experimental laser will soon be tested at Säntis, in the Swiss Alps, where the radio transmission tower at its summit is hit by lightning hundreds of times each year. University of Geneva
The laser will be fired at clouds to discharge lightning in a controlled way. Testing at Säntis was originally planned for 2020, but was delayed by the pandemic, allowing the team to run more extensive tests in a Paris lab. P.Walch, LOA
High winds at the summit of Säntis mean concrete blocks weighing a total of 18 tons are needed to anchor the laser machinery, housed inside a custom-sized shipping container. V.Moreno, Univeristy of Geneva
A helicopter transported the laser components to the transmission tower site in late May 2021. V.Moreno, Univeristy of Geneva
"This is one of the places in Europe that's struck by lightning the most," said Wolf of the test site, "so it's an ideal place to make our proof-of-concept experiments." Univeristy of Geneva
"It's a huge laser -- it takes a large truck to transport it, which is why it was built like a puzzle, with modules that can be put together on site," said Swiss physicist Jean-Pierre Wolf, who is leading the research. C Herkommer, Trumpf
The project is the work of an EU-funded consortium which includes universities in Paris and Lausanne, as well as rocket manufacturer ArianeGroup and the maker of the laser, German high-tech company Trumpf. University of Geneva
Wolf isn't the only scientist attempting to use electricity to affect clouds. Scientists from the University of Reading, in the UK, are using drones to apply a charge to clouds to make them rain. From Account Director/UAEREP
This kind of cloud charging could eventually be combined with cloud seeding -- an existing technology where planes inject particles into clouds to encourage rain. Pictured, an aircraft fitted with canisters of cloud seeding silver iodide, sodium chloride and potassium chloride at Jakkur Airport in the Indian city of Bangalore, in August 2017. AFP Contributor/AFP/AFP via Getty Images