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Laser-guided lightning

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Version 2 2023-06-08, 12:56
Version 1 2023-01-12, 15:49
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posted on 2023-06-08, 12:56 authored by Aurélien Houard, Pierre Walch, Thomas Produit, Victor Moreno, Benoit Mahieu, Antonio Sunjerga, Clemens Herkommer, Amirhossein Mostajabi, Ugo Andral, Yves-Bernard André, Magali Lozano, Laurent Bizet, Malte C. Schroeder, Guillaume Schimmel, Michel Moret, Mark Stanley, W. A. Rison, Oliver Maurice, Bruno Esmiller, Knut Michel, Walter Haas, Thomas Metzger, Marcos Rubinstein, Farhad Rachidi, Vernon Cooray, André Mysyrowicz, Jérôme Kasparian, Jean-Pierre Wolf
Electric currents circulating between charged clouds and the earth surface during lightning discharges are responsible for considerable damages and casualties. It is therefore important to develop better protection methods in addition to the traditional Franklin rod. Here we present the first demonstration that filaments formed by short and intense laser pulses can guide lightning discharges over considerable distances. We believe that this experimental breakthrough will lead to progress in lightning protection and lightning physics. An experimental campaign was carried out on the S\"antis Mountain in Northeastern Switzerland during the Summer of 2021 with a high repetition rate terawatt laser. The guiding of an upward negative lightning leader over a distance of 50 m was recorded by two separate high-speed cameras. The guiding of negative lightning leaders by laser filaments was corroborated in three other instances by VHF interferometric measurements, and the number of X-ray bursts detected during guided lightning events was significantly increased. While this research field has been very active for more than 20 years with many research groups around the world working to achieve this goal, this result demonstrates lightning guiding by lasers, which may lead to the development of a laser lightning rod. This work paves the way for new atmospheric applications of ultrashort lasers and represents a significant step forward in the development of a laser based lightning protection for airports, launchpads or large infrastructures.

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