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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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