Scientists Are Working To Control Lightning Strikes Just Like Thor

Thor would be impressed with how scientists are attempting to control lightning strikes with lasers.

By Sean Thiessen | Published

lightning lasers

Move over, God of Thunder; lightning has a new master. A research team in Switzerland has found a way to guide the path of lightning strikes using lasers aimed at storm clouds. As reported by The Guardian, the scientists involved believe that lasers could replace lightning rods as the protectors of areas at high risk for lightning strikes.

Led by Aurélian Houard, a physicist at France’s École Polytechnique, the research team mounted a laser near a tower on Switzerland’s Säntis mountain. Between July and September of 2022, the team waited for storms to form over the lightning hot spot, then fired the laser into the clouds. They found that the laser altered the lightning’s course and captured video of a bolt following the laser’s path for approximately 50 meters.

Laser beams disrupt the air and create channels of high conduction. Though these channels only exist for fractions of a second, that is all the time lightning needs to take advantage of the easier path. By manufacturing paths of lower resistance, scientists can, to a degree, manipulate the direction and timing of lightning strikes using lasers.

lightning lasers

The discovery is fresh, but laser-controlled lightning could be a game changer for airports and launchpads. Lightning rods have been the standard electrical storm mitigators since Benjamin Franklin was experimenting with kites, but rods can only manage lightning strikes within a few meters. Lightning manipulated by lasers could be controlled more accurately in a larger range.

Still, there are some kinks. The laser technology used to manipulate lightning is expensive, especially compared to lightning rods. The lasers are also quite powerful, so much so that they could impede pilots in the sky, endangering airplane travelers. These are obstacles that scientists believe can be overcome with strategic placement, and the result would be overall improved safety for operations adversely affected by electrical storms. 

Lightning is no joke; bolts can reach a temperature of 30,000 degrees Celsius, which is five times hotter than the surface of the sun. Lightning can cause serious damage, injuries, and even deaths – it kills thousands every year. Controlling lightning with lasers could help manage flight delays, protect valuable equipment from destruction, and potentially save lives.

This sort of technology may prove critical as the world experiences the effects of changing storm patterns. Recent storms in California have served as an example of changes in the frequency, intensity, and location of storms. As the world contends with evolving weather, lightning management may prove to be a more beneficial asset than ever before.

Scientists all over the world are innovating every day to help humanity better deal with extreme weather. The work of Houard and the research team in Switzerland holds promise for technology that could become standard at airports and similar areas around the world.

It is unknown at this time how long it will take for methods of controlling lightning with lasers to be implemented into real-world scenarios. Scientists are still in the early phase of research, and more experiments are likely on the way. The early findings are positive, and Houard and the team may just be onto something big enough to shock Thor himself.