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Earth Science

Curved Laser Beams Could Help Tame Lightning 184

Urchin writes "Laser beams just gained a new property — they can curve through space. That's what happens when ultrashort laser pulses pass through a phase pattern mask and a lens, which together shift the most intense region of the beam from the center to the right-hand side. The asymmetry in the pulse causes it to drift progressively further to the right along an arc as it travels. The laser beam is so intense that it ionizes the air it passes through to create a curved plasma channel. Those kinds of channels can be up to 100 meters long — direct them at thunderclouds and they could first trigger lightning to spark and then act as a convenient but short-lived lightning rod to guide it safely to the ground, according to some researchers."
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Curved Laser Beams Could Help Tame Lightning

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  • by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @05:54AM (#27583749)

    I often wonder how many "obvious" ideas will be seen as completely retarded in not so many years.

    "They thought objects attracted each other."
    "How? By pure will? By magic?"
    "They called it gravity."
    "Friking morons. No wonder they blew up Earthone"

  • by kulakovich ( 580584 ) <slashdot@bonfireproductions. c o m> on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @07:30AM (#27584189)
    The failure of the first particle beam/laser hybrid was due to the particles deviated from target because of their mass, falling out of the laser's beam.

    So that's fixed now?

  • by aliquis ( 678370 ) <> on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @07:33AM (#27584205) Homepage

    They bent the laws of physics!

    No, the laws of physics bent their beliefs in how things should work.

    (I was going to write "... bent their theory" but it don't feel appropriate.)

  • by Potor ( 658520 ) <farker1@gmai l . c om> on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @07:55AM (#27584317) Journal

    Let me imagine further.

    If this becomes a standard response to thunderstorms, it won't be long before people blame the government when they or their property get hit by lightening. Hell, discrimination lawsuits could emerge, depending on how the government allocates its resources. And if this is a private service, expect civil lawsuits.

    It is fortunate that lasers and sharks go together on /., for the lawyers could end up profiting from these suggested uses.

  • No connection (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dexmachina ( 1341273 ) on Wednesday April 15, 2009 @08:46AM (#27584729)

    Christodoulides's team's work could be combined with his to help aim the laser pulses and plasma channels at specific targets, such as clouds, although he points out that the laser pulses can also be guided using mirrors. "But it would be fun to see curved lightning discharges," he says.

    This article is cool up until the lightning bit. As the quote from TFA shows, there's absolutely no connection between the curved lasers and the technique for triggering lighting. As far as generating an ion channel goes, the curved laser does nothing a straight laser can't. The only connection between the otherwise completely disconnected bits of research is that the lightning guy commented on the curved laser stuff and essentially said that while using mirrors is more feasible in his project, using curved lasers would look cool.

    Everytime someone comes up with an interesting discovery in science, people invariably ask what it's good for. Ditto for math. The problem is that a lot (most?) research is done for its own sake, to discover new things, rather than having any particular application in mind. History has shown that applications tend to come later, and in the places you least expect it, so it pays to just be curious. People thought group theory was just weird abstract shit until someone figured out how to use it in applied chemistry.

    It's said when the need to immediately justify every new discovery has gotten to the point where an article needs to include a completely contrived and ridiculous application just to placate people.

We all like praise, but a hike in our pay is the best kind of ways.