Whoa. Shooting clouds with lasers. Wtf are these scientists doing? It sounds like fun. Like a 1950’s comic book with super-villains who can control the weather with technology in their costumes and jetpacks. They say the practical use could be to protect sensitive sites or equipment. Uh-huh. Yeah, sure. They are really just thinking of the X-men’s Storm, aren’t they?

In a step towards gaining the God-like ability to call down lightning bolts on a whim, researchers used an ultra-high-power laser to trigger electrical activity in storm clouds over New Mexico, US.

They fired ultra-fast pulses of a powerful five terawatt laser into the clouds. These beams created channels of ionised molecules known as “filaments” that conduct electricity through clouds like lightning rods before it strikes earth.

The filaments created were too short-lived to provoke an actual lightning strike. But an increase in the electrical activity inside the clouds was recorded. The French and German researchers that shot the laser skyward say using faster pulses should achieve thunderbolts on demand.