Researchers at Switzerland’s University of Geneva have come up with an interesting way of making it rain–shooting lasers high up into the sky. Though the strategy seems like science fiction, the team hopes that the lasers will be able to increase rainfall in areas that need it.

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The team, led by Jerome Kasparian, first tested the method in a lab setting. By shooting a 220-millijoule laser beaminto a below-freezing, water-saturated chamber, scientists were able create clouds. To understand just how powerful thatlaser beam is, 220 millijoules is about as much energy as the intensity of 1,000 power plants!

While the lab demonstration is controversial (high-humidity at extremely low temperatures doesn’t mimic real-world conditions), Kasparian asserts thatthe process showed encouraging results in the field. The team shot laser beams 60 meters into the air in Berlin, Germany. Though clouds couldn’t be seen by the naked eye, LIDAR weather tracking systems confirmed that the laser boosted the density and size of water molecules in the air.

Clearly this process will have its critics–after all, a laser that powerful in the wrong hands could produce disastrous results. Still, scientists are working on optimizing theinfrared laser’s wavelength, focus and pulse duration to produce large enough droplets to make it rain.

Via New Scientist