Superfast laser pulses could pave way for beam weapons

Short bursts turn columns of air into energy conduits

10:06am, March 5, 2014

LASER DEFENSE The U.S. Navy is reportedly deploying a laser weapon system on one of its ships. New work on carving out air-based conduits for high-energy laser beams could improve this technology.

Laser pulses lasting tiny fractions of a second have created superhighways in the air that are potentially capable of transporting megawatts of laser power. The advance should help scientists detect pollution in the atmosphere. It could also enable more exotic applications such as redirecting lightning and building practical laser weapons.

Lost in the hype surrounding President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative and other laser-based weapon systems was the fact that it’s difficult to deliver large amounts of energy through the atmosphere via laser. Air absorbs laser energy, heats up and expands. That low-density air acts like a defocusing lens, causing the beam to spread apart and weaken.

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