A one-of-a-kind terawatt laser was installed on Mount Sentis in the Swiss Alps as a lightning rod.
Almost 270 years ago Benjamin Franklin invented the lightning rod and lightning protection is now based on the same concept. The technology has several disadvantages. Installation of permanent lightning rods is not always possible. In addition, they only protect against direct lightning. By attracting lightning strikes to conduct current into the ground, they cause electromagnetic interference and voltage surges in devices and appliances.
To solve the problem, scientists have developed a new lightning protection technique based on a 5-ton 9-meter long superlaser. “The laser lightning rod is one of the most powerful in its class,” said engineer Clemens Herkommer, co-author of the study, in an article for Photonics Media magazine.
Herkommer has spent the last four years developing a unique laser system, and now a team of scientists from the University of Geneva has installed it on the summit of Mount Sentis at an altitude of 2500 meters. It is considered one of the hot spots in Europe. About 100 lightning strikes occur here annually, mainly from May to August.
The laser emits 1000 ultrashort pulses into the atmosphere every second. In the process, it creates a long ionized channel towards the clouds. This laser thread will “lure” lightning, deflecting them from vulnerable spots. “By firing 1,000 laser pulses per second into the clouds, we can safely discharge lightning and make the world a little safer,” concludes Herkommer.
The Laser Lightning Rod project team will test the effectiveness of the laser on the mountain over the next few weeks. The first results will appear by the end of summer and beginning of autumn.