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Huge Tesla Coils Will Recreate Natural Lightning 199

Posted by samzenpus
from the warm-up-the-lightning-cannon dept.
jjp9999 writes "In order to study the nature of lighting, the team at Lightning on Demand (LOD) plans to build two, ten-story-tall Tesla coils—the largest ever—that will blast arcs of lightning hundreds of feet in length. LOD founder Greg Leyh said the project aims to reveal details on the initiation process of natural lightning, an area that remains a mystery, since smaller generated arcs have more trouble breaking through the air. It is believed that 'laboratory-scale electric arcs start to gain lightning-like abilities once they grow past about 200ft in length,' according to the LOD website, and so the team hopes to build Tesla coils large enough to do this. According to Leyh, 'Understanding how lightning forms [and grows] is the first step towards being able to control where lightning strikes or being able to suppress it completely in certain areas.'"
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Huge Tesla Coils Will Recreate Natural Lightning

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  • Exciting! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Aerynvala (1109505) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @06:16PM (#38184472) Homepage
    I can't wait for the SyFy movie based on the 'true story' :)
    • by mjwalshe (1680392)
      has any one told Helen Magnus what Teslas up to now ;-)
    • by HateBreeder (656491) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @07:14PM (#38184880)

      I will never forgive the SyFy channel for perverting the spelling of "Sci-Fi".
      Not to mention killing off Stargate... or any decent show for that matter. We're now stuck with rubbish like Eureka.
      Maybe they've done some surveys and decided that their target audience should actually be a bunch of retards.

      • Re:Exciting! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Macrat (638047) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @07:25PM (#38184942)

        We're now stuck with rubbish like Eureka.

        Eureka has been canceled.

        You are stuck with rubbish like Ghost Hunters.

      • Re:Exciting! (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ScrewMaster (602015) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @08:28PM (#38185352)

        I will never forgive the SyFy channel for perverting the spelling of "Sci-Fi".

        Bonnie Hammer's successor stated that it was because they couldn't get copyright on "Sci-fi".

        Not to mention killing off Stargate... or any decent show for that matter. We're now stuck with rubbish like Eureka.

        They've had a history of that. Take Sliders for example. They tried very hard to kill it off because "it wasn't getting the numbers we wanted." Cast changes, writer changes ... but it was still popular. Ms. Hammer, in her infinite wisdom, ultimately decided that Sci-Fi couldn't afford to keep it in production because they'd committed to a season of "Next Wave", in her words "a guaranteed hit." Turned out to be a guaranteed flop, but by then Sliders was history.

        Maybe they've done some surveys and decided that their target audience should actually be a bunch of retards.

        Yes, considering that they've put on psychics, wrestling, and a number of other drain-bamaged shows in an effort to broaden their viewer base. Hey, dimbulbs ... what color is the sky in your world? John Edwards is not science fiction! There are plenty of other cable channels that cover that crap: I tuned in to their channel because they were offering something special. In the end, what they achieved was the alienation of the viewers who watched their programming because it was the SCIENCE-fiction channel!

        The only retards here are the drain-bamaged fools run that operation. The Sci-Fi Channel, back in its heyday with the likes of Sliders, Stargate and other great shows was about the only reason I bothered to have cable TV. Certainly wasn't for the lame selection of movies that most cable companies offer. Now they spend millions making some of the most incredibly bad movies (and I mean bad ... not "so bad they're good", they're just stupid) rather than pumping that capital into some more quality TV series.

        It's even more depressing when I see all the ex-Stargate actors and actresses showing up in SyFy's movies.

        • by bryan1945 (301828)

          Yeah, I think the whole downfall started with Bonnie. Wasn't she the one that kicked Bab5 off to TNT (or somebody?)?
          There was also another really bizarre reason given back then why they were changing the name. Something about bringing in non-geeks while trying to keep the geeks and blah blah... The mental backflips they were doing on that one was amazing.
          Once SyFy put wrestling on, I gave up. I watch Eureka, but only because I find it funny. The science may be bad, but I prefer a bad science joke than

    • by syousef (465911)

      I can't wait for the SyFy movie based on the 'true story' :)

      Here you go:

      http://dsc.discovery.com/videos/mythbusters-lightning-strikes-twice.html [discovery.com]

    • I can't wait for the SyFy movie based on the 'true story' :)

      There was one SyFy (I still choke when I type that) where they had to use a giant Tesla-coil-like thing at some Arctic research base to realign the Earth's magnetic field or some such nonsense. It was on TV one evening: the movie was so bad I had to turn it off.

      • I hate writing SyFy for the channel as well. And that's unfortunate re the movie. I can enjoy a certain type of bad movie, when they have fun with it and are at least interesting.
    • by hairyfeet (841228)
      Let me see if I can guess the plot....scientists trying to control nature create a lightning monster which terrorizes a small town (that just so happens to look like Toronto) until a D list actor comes along and saves the day? Oh and there MUST be at least one instance of the cop saying "I'm getting too old for this shit" as I think that's a law now.
      • by bryan1945 (301828)

        Actually, I think the lightning monster was from the artificial black hole movie. Yes, I do enjoy watching these crappy movies. :D

  • Will they also play music [youtube.com] on them?

    • by bryan1945 (301828)

      This one is even more nutsy- no poles, just the suit. It really has to be disconcerting when the lightning is hitting his head.

  • by kurthr (30155) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @06:21PM (#38184532)

    Greg is a great guy, giant tesla coils are cool, and I'd love to know more about lightning, but it seems like lots of properties of air (especially when it has water or other polarizable droplets/particles) are frequency dependent. So I'm not sure how that this is really going to act like the natural lightning that we're used to... Science? Ok, but not Natural Lightning Science.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by hort_wort (1401963)

      That's a good point. Further, AC transmits electricity. I have a tiny tesla coil in my room that can light up a flourescent bulb from some distance. I'm betting he's gonna blow out all his own equipment the first time he turns it on. I'll give him bonus points if he can spread that EMP burst out enough to fry electronics in nearby homes.

      • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @07:38PM (#38185026)

        I'm betting he's gonna blow out all his own equipment the first time he turns it on.

        FTFA:

        Tesla coils have an uncanny ability to short out modern electronics—anything from erasing voice mails to blowing out computer screens. To guard against this, the LOD teams usually places “nearby electronics in shielded enclosures,” or they run the coils “far, far away,” Leyh said.

        I know. I must be new here, I read TFA. After a while here, you don't read TFA. Later on still, you don't even read TFS.

        On the absolute existential plain of eternal bliss, you don't even read the title, either. You just post.

        However, I agree with your comment . . . which is why I want to be there when he fires that critter up, and all the ensuing pandemonium rages. Maybe it'll create a Black Hole, and the Higgs Boson will pop out of it. CERN really let us all down there, with the end of the universe, and an angry God appearing looking for His Particle.

        • by Cylix (55374) *

          Once one reaches /. zen they no longer need to even read TFC either.

          It's fairly boring though as I can only stand to read fifty or so RE:s of the same subject.

          • You don't need to read the subjects either. Just locate the nearest comment modded to +5 and post your own as a reply to that. If you say something about 1984, it's practically always considered on-topic hereabouts.

    • by DCFusor (1763438)
      You were already modded max, so I'm just going to agree - AC and DC do very different streamer formation, due to the displacement current drawn by dielectrics with AC (delta V/t). This has nothing to do with lightning, but it WILL be cool. I work with high voltage all the time, I know this stuff. See my forums in my sig.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Hi Kurt,

      Since we're attempting to trigger a relativistic runaway breakdown, all that matters is that the formation time is short compared to one period of AC.

      The predicted formation time for a relativistic avalanche is 10's of microseconds, and the 10-story coilforms resonate at a very low frequency (about 5200Hz) so for all practical purposes the slow-moving coil output will appear as high voltage DC during the avalanche.

      -Greg Leyh

      • I'm not completely convinced of this, because the state of the atoms in the surrounding space will be strongly perturbed by the time-varying induced voltages, not just the static coulomb voltage. I would be very surprised if the "lightning" coming off of tesla coils is structured like real lightning precisely at the avalanche for this reason. The initiation of dielectric breakdown in a gradually building radial static field seems as though it would be very different from dielectric breakdown through atoms
  • Atmosphere (Score:5, Funny)

    by dan_barrett (259964) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @06:33PM (#38184602)

    Hopefully they're building this over a smallish castle + mad scientist lab with convenient skylights, along with the worlds largest knife switch

  • by mysidia (191772) * on Sunday November 27, 2011 @06:33PM (#38184610)

    This can't be anywhere near civilization, as a Tesla coil can fry any electronics. It also can't be in some forest wilderness, as a Tesla coil can easily ignite trees. As they say, they're making something that's more and more lightning like, which is also more unsafe. So building a 10' Tesla coil is probably not the hard problem.... the hard problem is operating it Safely, and actually being able to take experimental observations.... because, this is all very dangerous.

    And also, will the FCC allow them to operate it, once they've built it?

    Considering spark gap transmitters have long been banned due to the spectrum-wide interference they cause; and the earliest such radio transmitters were tesla coils... and EMI in particular can be generated across the spectrum as well, resulting in disruptions to communications, with such a large tesla coil, and such a large arc, especially if they are attempting to use frequencies associated with wireless transmissions; I wonder what will the RFI fallout will be.

    ; and any horizontally long metallic structure can get induced currents and also become antennae for further RFI emissions. Yes, lightning does show up on the radio spectrum as well, but a powered up Tesla coil emits many arcs not spread out by time, a much bigger footprint than lightning....

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      As long as nobody will sue them if he infringes on some imaginary property, they won't give a shit.

    • by ustolemyname (1301665) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @07:07PM (#38184840)

      So building a 10' Tesla coil is probably not the hard problem

      It's not 10'. It's 10 stories, so more like 100' Tesla coils. I would call that hard.

    • by Rinnon (1474161)
      Oh come on, we all know where the best place for these kind of mad science projects are. The Antarctic! Worst thing you could do is melt a little ice, and I think we've already got a plan in motion for that one.
    • by Megahard (1053072)
      I'm guessing it would have to be enclosed, like PG&E's facility in San Ramon [sanramonexpress.com], seen on Mythbusters. I work less than a mile away and there's no interference.

      BTW to me it looks like a giant breast.
      • by wvmarle (1070040)

        That's gonna be one huge enclosure then.

        The coils themselves 10 stories tall, the towers 260' apart - that's quite big. But the enclosure will have to be far enough from the coils to not attract the sparks: you want the sparks between the towers, not between a tower and the enclosure. So that should be easily a 20 stories tall enclosure.

        And to make matters worse, no supports are possible, as naturally a support would become too close to the coils. Really wonder how they would go about that. The biggest un

    • Maybe I'm just not on the right wavelength, but what sort of danger are we talking about here? I mean, yes, on a personal level, intentionally creating something close to actual lighting is going to be potentially dangerous to those in immediate proximity, but this is no nuke. Early rocketry exposed its researchers to explosive risks, but it didn't take long to anticipate and accommodate those risks, such that most of the time, the only casualty was a chunk of ground and a little pride.

      Build your lighting
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 27, 2011 @11:52PM (#38186542)

      Actually, the radiated output from the coils will be quite low, owing to several factors:

      A) The operating frequency is *very* low, only 5200 Hz. This is actually *below* the frequency range the FCC controls.

      B) The wavelength (over 35 miles) is *very* long compared to the coil height, so it's radiation efficiency is almost zero.

      C) The two coils operate in opposite phase, so the electric fields will tend to cancel at a distance.

      Of greater concern will be the actual *acoustic* noise... which might be upwards of 10's of kilowatts.
      -Greg Leyh

  • I hope they dont build those damned things anywhere near my house,
  • by mark_reh (2015546) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @07:12PM (#38184866) Journal

    and it's wrong. Tesla coils produce high frequency -i.e AC- discharges at very high voltage and very low current. Lightning, on the other hand is a DC or very low frequency phenomenon combining extremely high voltages with extremely high currents. The currents are so high that they instantaneously heat the air and produce a loud boom- you may have heard it before- it's called thunder.

    If he really wanted to duplicate lightning he'd charge up some big capacitors to extremely high voltages and draw arcs between their terminals. THAT would be a better simulation of lightning than the output of any Tesla coil.

    Major props to the guy for marketing his idea. It's been picked up by every news agency from here to Mumbai. I'm sure he'll get the funding he needs to go through with the project.

    • by Annirak (181684)

      Or maybe go with van der graaf generators instead.

    • If he really wanted to duplicate lightning he'd charge up some big capacitors to extremely high voltages and draw arcs between their terminals. THAT would be a better simulation of lightning than the output of any Tesla coil.

      Say, a Cockroft-Walton [wikipedia.org] generator?

  • by vuo (156163)

    >Tesla Roadster

    Seems like there's an extra "d" in there.

    Anyway, maybe this will finally prove or disprove the conspiracy theories about Nicola Tesla's wireless power transmission system. Alternatively, at least tesla coils as in C&C become reality. A great replacement for landmines, now that the boo-hoo pacifists try to ban them.

  • by MichaelCrawford (610140) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @07:18PM (#38184900) Homepage Journal

    The very first communications of human origin that alien civilizations might receive will come from Nikola Tesla's attempt to broadcast electrical power through the air a little over a century ago. Provided they have sensitive and directional enough receivers, and can somehow filter out the radio noise from the Sun, that would mean that any civilization within a little over a hundred light years might already be trying to respond to us.

    A while back I asked on an astronomy newsgroup, how far away could a civilization with the level of technology that humanity presently has, detect our own radio signals?

    The sorrowful answer was that it was only three light years, which is a light year short of the distance to our nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri, which is also not likely to have any planets that could harbor life. The SETI researcher who responded also said that our strongest radio transmitters are the Distant Early Warning radars that the United States uses to watch for an incoming nuclear attack from the Soviets. That implies that we are only "communicating" with aliens who are in a generally northward direction relative to the earth.

    I then asked how SETI hoped to hear from any aliens at all. His answer was that we expect that more advanced civilizations would transmit far more powerful radio signals. That doesn't seem right to me, unless they are specifically trying to communicate with other civilizations, as I would expect more advanced technology to result in lower radio power, rather than more, both to conserve energy and to enable more devices to use the available spectrum.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by turing_m (1030530)

      The very first communications of human origin that alien civilizations might receive will come from Nikola Tesla's attempt to broadcast electrical power through the air a little over a century ago. Provided they have sensitive and directional enough receivers, and can somehow filter out the radio noise from the Sun, that would mean that any civilization within a little over a hundred light years might already be trying to respond to us.

      I wonder what exactly they are going to respond to us with. e.g. "Ahh...

    • That's what aliens will say.

      We've got to push the limits of our understanding of physics and imagine more advanced methods of communications. Ones that could be directed at distant solar systems and get around the speed of light restrictions on communications latency.

      I'm thinking along the lines of wormholes (Einstein-Rosen bridges). Assume that advanced civilizations will have figured out all the problems involved with sending these things around the universe and popping them open in front of target civ

      • you'll come out the other side as a largely random sequence of random types of fundamental particles, mostly photons. trust me. while I only playvacsoftware engineer on the Internet, I really am a physicist.

        you could through one though.

        I spent quite a long time puzzling overbhowbto encode a signal so that any alien that was capable of detecting it would bevquite certainbwas transmitted by intelligent beings. just for our signal to be nonrandom would be insufficient, as there are many physical processes t

        • when I type a correctly spelled word replaces itbwith some completely unrelated word. when I really do misspell a word the ios doesn't correct it.

          my single most common error is to type v or b instead of space, but autocorrect doesn't know howbto fix that.

  • Somehow, I don't think clouds have ten story tesla coils.
  • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Sunday November 27, 2011 @09:44PM (#38185888)
    Holy shit, if I were a supervillain, that's exactly the sort of institute that I'd want to run. They probably say: "What happens in Siberia stays in Siberia, except for the bits that were accidentally atomized. Those are floating around somewhere in the upper atmosphere." Also, they probably say: "In Siberia, a couple of people can hear you scream, but nobody really gives a fuck."
    • by FooAtWFU (699187)

      Also, they probably say: "In Siberia, a couple of people can hear you scream, but nobody really gives a fuck."

      That's not entirely true. My late grandmother was held in a bona fide Siberian prison camp for a while. The other prisoners there can hear you, and probably do care some, but are generally powerless to do anything about it.

  • Is anyone looking into harnessing lightning's electrical power? There are many tall structures that are hit by lightning regularly, and they're virtually all located among electricity-hungry populations. I'm no EE, and obviously you can't just wire a lightning rod to a battery array, but could you not cascade the power through first an array of a shitload of small capacitors (can charge/discharge fast and handle high current) wired in parallel, which then charges one or more arrays of larger capacitors (c

  • Doesn't this make you think of the weapons the aliens (the "Prawns", what a great name) used in Distrcit 9? What a cool (and terrifying) weapon, caused the people to EXPLODE upon being shot at (presumably from the instant vaporization of all the water in their bodies).

    Would this device cause the same thing to happen if it could be used at a weapon? I heard that some scientists had figured out how to direct lightning bolts using (relatively) low powered lasers to create an ionized pathway in the air. So u

  • I don't understand what they hope to figure out beyond what we've all known for a hundred years.

    If you don't want to be zapped make sure your not charged or the best path to ground and you have nothing to worry about.

  • Repeat the Philadelphia experiment! I still want to know what happened! - for real

  • Will it include a cyclotron to make the high energy particles that are theorised to create the original conductive path wich allows the real lightning to travel far further than it should? The high energy particles may not be the reason, but this setup may be part of what's required to test it.
    14 million volts should only jump up to 50 meters (or about 150 feet) or so, depending on the shape of the electrodes (33 KV/cm is a rule of thumb for perfect spherical electrodes, usually it's lower). No where near

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