Photo via Flickr / CC.
The idea of artificially regulating the weather has a long and vibrant history in science fiction. But who would have guessed we'd get lasers thrown in as part of the real-world version?
That's precisely what biophotonics experts Jean-Pierre Wolf and Dr. Jerome Kasparian of the University of Geneva have proposed. Their experiments revealed that laser blasts catalyze the formation of ice and channel the path of lightning. It would appear that real life weather gods do exist, but they prefer photonic blasts to Asgardian hammers.
A laser blast (red) generates particles, via J.P. Wolf, University of Geneva.
Wolf and Kasparian's original reason for shooting lasers at the sky was to detect aerosols. But they soon noticed that pulses of infra-red and ultraviolet lasers caused water vapor to condense into ice. This doesn't work on heavy cumulus clouds, but with cirrus clouds, as “the laser action led to a strong enhancement of the total ice particle number density in the chamber by up to a factor of 100," the researchers write.
In March of this year, Wolf's team upped the ante by firing a terawatt laser into the sky above Rome. The results support the idea that we might be able to regulate precipitation using lasers. If a nation really wants a public holiday to be sunny, they could induce rainfall before the date to lesson the likelihood of bad weather. And if a farming community is suffering a particularly bad drought—an increasingly common problem—the sky could be ordered to deliver the goods.
Lasers also have the potential to guide lightning away from buildings or regions where a strike could do more harm. Professor Jean-Claude Diels at the University of New Mexico is pursuing that particular possibility.
“Lightning is responsible for about half the power failures in areas prone to thunderstorms, costing electric utility companies in [the United States] perhaps as much as $1 billion annually,” Diels wrote in a report. Lightning can also mess with navigational devices on planes and spacecraft, not to mention that the phenomenon kills an average of 20 Americans a year. Guiding it away from high risk areas like power plants and airports seems like a smart bet.
Via Flickr / CC.
Wolf and Kasparian have organized a conference about laser-based weather control, which will take place at the World Meteorological Association in Geneva next month. The goal is to get scientists from many fields generating ideas about the future of the technology. According to Wolf and Kasparian, “the highly interdisciplinary nature of the subject [has] limited its development, due to the need for enhanced contracts between laser and atmospheric physicists, chemists, electrical engineers, meterologists, and climatologists.”
Perhaps a new field of meteorology will emerge from the conference. At the very least, we wish them good weather.