Playing God: Can scientists now control the weather?

Through the prospects of modern technology, science may be taking the proverbial thunderbolt away from Zeus when it comes to controlling what happens in the skies.

According to a report published in the journal Nature Photonics, a monthly publication focusing on the spectrum of photonics and optics, the beam would be able to trigger static electricity in the clouds, inducing rain or lightening when directed at them. So what’s the trick to this ingenious study? Developing the right kind of laser.

Matthew Mills, a graduate student at the Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers, told UCF that when laser beams collapse on themselves, the interaction “becomes so intense that electrons in the air’s oxygen and nitrogen are ripped off, creating plasma – basically a soup of electrons.”

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“The beam would be able to trigger static electricity in the clouds, inducing rain or lightening when directed at them.” Photo from: futureforall.org

The effectiveness of this god-like technology depends on the plasma produced by a short intensive laser pulse. This plasma can then merge with charged particles in a storm cloud and alter the weather, producing rain by choice and lightning bolts by decision. The main challenge in this, however, is the process of making laser beams travel into the clouds uninterrupted, because the power of these laser beams dissolve quickly. With current laser technology, laser light disintegrates in the process of traveling through Earth’s atmosphere, a prominent characteristic that has restricted its development in the concept of weather control. 

While this idea is perceived by many as airy hope, the federal government is interested enough in the expensive study, backing the development of this laser technology with a $7.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. Although the Greek gods may not be happy with this scientific development, this kind of human advance could further alter the physical Earth and atmosphere we thrive in, possibly leading to other discoveries involving meteorological advances, the effects of controlled climate change and weather modification.