Scientists testing laser beam which could stimulate rain and lightning. The new method could help increasingly drought-stricken areas around the world.
Above: Early morning lightning storms, inland of LA and San Diego. Astronaut Karen Nyberg shared this image on her Twitter feed, from the International Space Station.
Scientists at the University of Central Florida’s College and Optics & Photonics and the University of Arizona are working on a new way to point a high-energy laser beam into a cloud to stimulate rain and lightning.
Demetrios Christodoulides, a professor collaborating with graduate students, said:
“This work could ultimately lead to ultra-long optically induced filaments or plasma channels that are otherwise impossible to establish under normal conditions.
In principle such dressed filaments could propagate for more than 50 meters or so, thus enabling a number of applications. This family of optical filaments may one day be used to selectively guide microwave signals along very long plasma channels, perhaps for hundreds of meters.”
Matthew Mills, a graduate student at the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers, said in the UCF release:
“Since we have control over the length of a filament with our method, one could seed the conditions needed for a rainstorm from afar. Ultimately, you could artificially control the rain and lightning over a large expanse with such ideas.”
When a laser beam becomes intense enough, it behaves differently than usual – it collapses inward on itself. The collapse becomes so intense that electrons in the air’s oxygen and nitrogen are ripped off creating plasma – basically a soup of electrons.
What would be nice is to have a sneaky way which allows us to produce an arbitrary long ‘filament extension cable. It turns out that if you wrap a large, low intensity, doughnut-like ‘dress’ beam around the filament and slowly move it inward, you can provide this arbitrary extension.”