How lightning beam tech could help security

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Scientists have developed technology which could have significant implications for the security sector – a laser beam to divert lightning.

Researchers in Switzerland have come up with a new mast which can deflect four lightning strikes over several dozen metres – even in the most challenging weather.

It could radically alter how airports, launch sites, and other important infrastructure locations are protected from lightning strikes.

Bolts kill an estimated 24,000 people every year.

The device – measuring 1.5m wide, 8m long and weighing more than three tonnes – was stationed at the very summit of Mount Santis, 2,500m above sea level.

Attached to a Swisscom telecommunications tower, equipped with a normal lightning rod, the device’s performance was assessed over three months.

It was activated each time storms were forecast.

According to findings published in Nature Photonics, the rod guides the stirke by generating channels of ionised air using its laser beam.

This is when air molecules are electrically charged, and gives them a conductive quality like metal.

Study author Jean-Pierre Wolf, of the University of Geneva, explained: “When very high power laser pulses are emitted into the atmosphere, filaments of very intense light form inside the beam.

“These filaments ionise nitrogen and oxygen molecules in the air, which release electrons that are free to move. This ionised air, called plasma, becomes an electrical conductor.”

Picture by Nature Photonics

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