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Guided Lightning


A guided lightning bolt travels horizontally, then hits a car when it finds the lower resistance path to ground. The lightning is guided in a laser-induced plasma channel, then it deviates from the channel when it gets close to the target and has a lower-resistance path to ground. Though more work needs to be done, Picatinny Arsenal engineers believe the technology holds great promise. Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo

Good morning everyone.

Dearthàir is having internet problems at the moment, so the rest of us (or maybe just me?) will fill in for him on the days where he can’t get connected. He might also be vacationing on Baffin Island (his email was somewhat vague) which would explain the connection trouble.

Around a fortnight ago the US Army announced a new weapon that they’ve been developing at the Picatinny Arsenal and released the dramatic photo above. I imagine that it will be called a “weapons system” if it ever makes it out into the field, but that’s just the way they are. Everything is a bloody ‘system’ of some sort. Anyway, this new weapon is called the Laser-induced Plasma Channel (LIPC) and it allows you to shoot what are essentially directed lightning bolts. A very cool thing for a weapon to do, and I’ve been making versions of similar devices for years as they make excellent demonstrations of the conductivity of plasma, plus they’re fun to play with. It’s good to see the Army techs working on it, because it’s not as easy as it sounds.

The main problem is that high-voltage discharges (i.e. lightning) are lazy and would prefer go where they want rather than where you want them to, and where they want to go is the easiest path to ground. You can see the effect in the image above, where the discharge suddenly angles down from its path and into the parked vehicle. The Army techs were performing the experiment in a controlled environment where they could demonstrate the grounding effect (for lack of a more official term), but if you take the device outside it gets much more exciting. There are easy ground paths everywhere out of doors, especially around any sort of habitation, and trying to hit your target can quickly turn into an exercise in frustration. Anyway, I’m sure that the boys are having fun, and with any luck they will figure out a way around the grounding effect, and then I can update my toys too.

The point that I am approaching rather obliquely is that the government laboratories sometimes produce some interesting gadgetry, especially weapons. What kind of weapons would you like to see our tax dollars working on?


  • FЯeeMan

    By Zeus, I think they've got it!

  • OA5599


  • skitter

    A total or partial perspective vortex.

  • Stu_Rock

    It seems like a simple Faraday cage would be an effective countermeasure. Lighting strikes cars all the time with no significant consequences. It happened to me once.

    • Be-ing electrocuted.

      It happened to me once. It was horrible.

      <img src="; width=500>

      • Stu_Rock

        A couple weeks ago KPIX-TV reported that a driver was electrocuted when he tried to exit his vehicle after some power lines fell on it. They then said "the driver's condition is unknown." I still have no idea what they meant by that.

        I should have said something like "happened to my car while driving."

        • Did you ever have to get those random 'How to be Safe at Life' talks when you were in elementary school? Two that stand out to me in terms of absurdness are an animated video starring Disney's Pinocchio about the dangers of huffing paint that we were shown in second grade (!) and the electrical safety video (that I actually remember watching several times growing up) about what you have to do if you get a power line on your car. And so I know, if you think the line is touching your car, and you need to get out, you have to stand in the door and LEAP free, because if you touch the car and the ground at the same time–zap! But seriously, how often do people get power lines on their car that it was worth all that effort in elementary school?

      • The Professor

        Bah! A little jolt of a few k-volts doesn't hurt that much. I've been zapped dozens of times and my heart has only stopped 5 or 6 times, hardly worth considering. It does tend to give you a nasty headache though.

  • Power armor suits, a la the book Starship Troopers and a bunch of other scifi stuff.

    • CaptianNemo2001

      Orbital laser weapons that target moving objects on the ground…