back to article DARPA scientists demand lightning on tap

Sometimes it's not so easy being a mad scientist. Narrow-minded colleagues disparage your theories using harsh terms like "crackpot" and "ethically dubious". Persons in charge of critical supplies vital to your experiments - morticians, gravediggers, the people who run the brain depositary* - refuse to cooperate. Even once these …


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  1. Ian Ferguson
    Thumb Up

    Porn link

    I presume, this time, that they intend to bring to life hybrid sex creations sewn from the body parts of deceased pornography stars.

  2. Robert E A Harvey

    It's been done

    Gilgamish Wulfenbach:

    (Where is the mad scientist icon, by the way?)

    1. TheRobster

      (Where is the mad scientist icon, by the way?)

      <-- Here

      1. Francis Boyle

        Doesn't look mad

        Though I'd be pretty pissed* if my evil creator failed to endow me with a mouth.

        Obligatory copy of the collected works of Harlan Ellison in the pocket.

    2. TimeMaster T

      title, what title?

      You say "Mad Scientist". I say "Grumpy Visionary"

      So Reg, where is the grumpy visionary icon?

  3. Anonymous Coward

    I for one

    Would welcome a brain...

    no, wait....

  4. Brian Miller

    Premature, ah, triggering of lightning?

    I'm guessing that what DARPA wants is some way to trigger the lightning before it zaps what you want to protect. When a lightning strike hits an antenna with a lot of expensive equipment behind it, things will get fried even with a lightning arrestor installed on the coax. So instead of just hoping the lightning will strike the lightning rod and spare everything else, I'm guessing they want to direct it over *to* the lightning rod, and spare the statically-sensitive rise of the machines.

    If you are a mad, er, alternative theory scientist, you'll still have to wait for a real good storm to come around.

    1. Anton Ivanov

      Missile trailing wires...

      Old russian "Little Hammer" missile bought off from one of the "failed states". Shoot up. Boom. Job done.

      Alternatively, there are a couple of french ones that are fairly similar.

      All use wire spool and manual control.


      1. TimeMaster T

        of Rocket and wires

        I think its the University of Florida, but I know there is some research being done using modest sized model rockets trailing wire being launched into a cloud. 7 out of 10 times they can bring a bolt down right where they want it. Used to test/evaluate lightning safety ideas.

  5. Disco-Legend-Zeke
    IT Angle

    Create a thunderstorm?

    Build golf course?

    I recall some really cool lightning footage on PBS, Boffins fired rockets trailing wire into clouds.

    If i had DARPA type money, i would buy a hilltop, and install extra grounding. Some giant, elevated, spheres attached to the ground would allow huge charges to build up.

    I guess the IT angle is using a computer brain insteat of Abe Normal's.

  6. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Charged Atmospheres ....... for IMPerfect Storm Conditions.

    "Lightning causes more than $1B/year in direct damages to property in addition to the loss of lives, disruption of activities (for example, postponement of satellite launches) and their corresponding costs. " ..... from the DARPA Nimbus Doc.

    Substitute Enlightening for Lightning and you move into Alien Territory where direct damages can bring down whole Systems with costs in the realms of the catastrophically priceless. Spookily enough, the Technology to Protect against such events has been touted for sale and possession at the bargain price of $1 short of a Billion in a very specific Nine Nines Exclusive Contract ...... for those with a Heady Need to Protect Systemically Fragile Global Capital Projects with a Flawed Promise Programming ....... but for Zero Cost you can Practically Destroy the Same, which makes Enlightening a Bit of a Quantum Communications Enigma.

    And the Substitution works well througout the Document with the Disruptive Cloud Computing Environment taking the place of Inclement Weather Systems. I wonder if that was DARPA's intention ......... with the Funding Opportunity Announcement being a Stealthy Phish.

  7. Jerry H. Appel

    Lightning in a bottle

    Loved the tongue-in-cheekiness; however, there is real engineering science behind this for aircraft. Right now NASA and the FAA, along with most other aviation sanctioning bodies must fly their aircraft into thunderstorms to test out their prototypes. And we all know how cooperative Mother can be, so generating your own lightning would be much more convenient. If this were truly a military program I'm sure it would be titled Zeus, but then we stil don't know how Mother makes these bolts which we've now discovered generate a lot radiation ( I don't think most test pilots are too happy to know that they are getting the equivalent of 400 chest x-rays every time they pilot such a test.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      @Jerry H. Appel

      Read that article again. The radiation is only generated at the start of the discharge, not everywhere along it; the hazardous area is relatively small. They're estimating the amount of radiation, as it hasn't been measured on board a plane, and 10 rem is an upper bound - the actual amount could be much less.

  8. Marco van de Voort
    Thumb Up

    High voltage lab costs

    Afaik High Voltage labs running costs are a high drain on the EE faculty of specially smaller universities.

    Anything that can be done to lower that would be welcomed on many unis I guess.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    Ben Franklin had this problem licked

    perhaps DARPA is unfamiliar with such advanced technologies as kites and keys

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge


    Very PC.

    Joking aside this is another go at the idea of a laser lightning rod which IIRC was tried through the 70s and 80s. It used a laser to create achannel of inoinsed air not so much for lightnint on demand but to discharge clouds on demand. Very handy if you want to guarentee circraft or rocket takeoffs especially as rocket exhaust makes a pretty good conductive path. This has lead to quite a lot of Shuttle takeoffs being cancelled as the takeoff itsself will trigger the lightning regardless of wheather there is a storm going on.

    The last time round I don't think it worked very well but I'm not sure why. Obviously the ion trail will disperse farlry quickly unless you have a biggish appature and you'd probably want to try to find the most charged part of a cloud to improve your chances. I'm not sure if that was done.

    Naturally a better understandind of what's needed would also aid the reverse process. Handy for one of those wireless tasers (as in no wires to the suspect).

    Sadly reports that this will be available in a convenient "sharks head" form factor are likely to be exaggerated.

  11. raving angry loony

    Aunty matters?

    Was this before or after they detected antimatter signature in lightning strikes?


    Maybe they're trying to target the antimatter explosions?

  12. Adam Azarchs

    The tech exists

    Physicists have been triggering lightning strikes for years as a way to study them. They do, unfortunately, still need a thundercloud, but by firing a rocket trailing a thin wire, then can cause a lightening strike to come down at a pre-determined location, which is critical for planning useful instrumentation. Now, being able to do it without a cloud would be a neat trick. But considerably more energy-intensive.

    1. TimeMaster T

      tech exists

      1 High voltage super capacitor, check

      1 Van Degraf generator or Tesla coil to charge super cap., check

      2 high intensity UV lasers to create ionized pathways in the air, check

      1 targeting system, check

      THICK wire to put it all together, check

      Yep, the tech exists.

      Tesla laid out the basics, what he could have done if he had had lasers...

  13. Steve Roper

    Finger of god

    Maybe DARPA want to be able to create lighning not for research, but as a weapon. Imagine being able to fling down thunderbolts like mighty Zeus on whoever pisses you off. Controlling the weather as a means of warfare is an idea that dates back to WWII and probably some time before that. And as technology advances, the likelihood of being able to achieve it becomes ever closer.

    I wonder how long it will be before DARPA puts out a tender for a method of triggering volcanic eruptions, with an emphasis on putting the volcanoes in a place where they don't normally occur?

    Mine's the one with the tinfoil lining in the hood...

  14. Parax

    One Word!


    (google it)

  15. Richard 102

    With any luck

    This will mean more work for Marty Feldman. I mean, for Peter Boyle. I mean, for Madeleine Kahn. I mean, oh heck, let's give a round of applause for Gene Hackman's espresso.

  16. wrxcohen
    Black Helicopters

    Red Alert

    Can someone say Tesla Coil? Video Games and Movies always get to play with their dreams, scientists make them reality. Tesla Coils would allow military sites to protect their camp from electronic scanners, jammers and more. Lets combine Red Alert and Toys(robin williams) to get a real LIFE video game.

  17. Colin 4
    Thumb Up


    Nice DARPA description Lewis .. back on form !

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