SYDNEY - Australian scientists are developing an ambitious plan to try to tame lightning to ease the threat of bushfires. Many of last summer's devastating blazes were caused by lightning strikes. An international team of researchers in Canberra is testing a laser beam to try to control where the lighting hits.
Scientists in Canberra are trying to tame the lightning bolts responsible for many Australian bushfires. The scientists believe the bolts’ path and direction could be controlled by small, portable laser pointers.
Lightning is generated when frozen raindrops collide in a storm cloud, creating an electric charge. Researchers have shown that thunderclouds could be "short-circuited" by using a laser to heat tiny particles in the air to trigger a lightning strike.
In the laboratory, they have successfully used an energy beam to guide a burst of electricity to a designated target.
Professor Andrey Miroshnichenko of the University of New South Wales in Canberra is a co-author of the study.
“The reason for our research was to find the condition where we can control and induce lightning where we want it and when we want it,” Miroshnichenko said. “We anticipate that it should be quite effective and low-cost. We need to perform large-scale experiments out there.”
Those trials are expected to start soon. The research has been published in the journal Nature Communications. It was a collaboration that involved the University of New South Wales in Canberra, Texas A&M University in Qatar and the University of California in Los Angeles.
The largest bushfire ever recorded in Australia was caused by lighting last October. The Gospers Mountain blaze burned for 79 days and scorched more than a million hectares near Sydney’s suburban fringe.