Oh great. Now we have lightning equipped with lasers.

The entire universe in blog form
Sept. 6 2011 6:20 AM

Oh great. Now we have lightning equipped with lasers.

Oh, when will scientists learn? First it was laser pointers, then sharks with lasers. Now? Lightning storms with lasers.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

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What could possibly go wrong? Dun dun DUNNNNNNNN.

OK, fine. In reality, this picture actually shows a storm approaching an observatory testing out a new type of laser guide star system; lasers can be used as a way of increasing the resolution of telescopes. The storm was still a ways off, but from the photographer's view the laser was superposed over it, and happened to catch a pretty dramatic lightning bolt in the picture.

I was interested to read that the laser had a power of about 20 Watts. A decent green laser pointer has a power of roughly 1/5th of a Watt, so this one is 100 times as powerful. I've used a 1 Watt hand-held laser before, and it literally scared me; it was so bright it felt like a weapon. The laser seen above is a lot brighter yet, and they need to have spotters when they're used to make sure no airplanes are nearby. The beam might (under extraordinary circumstances) damage the plane, and would surely blind the pilot; not a happy circumstance.

Of course, lightning is even more powerful. After this picture gets around, I expect SyFy will air "Megalaser versus Superlightning". Which I would totally watch.

Image credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser



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