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How to trigger lightning

Rocket-triggered lightning strikes a control tower

By James Dacey

In the same spirit as Benjamin Franklin and his famous kite experiments, Joseph Dwyer is a scientist willing to brave electrical storms to understand more about how lightning works. He carries out his work at Florida’s International Center for Lightning Research and Testing where he fires rockets into thunderclouds to trigger lightning.

DACEY dwyer blog.jpg

I recently caught up with Dwyer to find out a bit more about his work in this exclusive interview for He is adamant that despite our familiarity with these spectacular natural lightshows, we really don’t know all that much about what is going on. He highlights three big outstanding questions:

How lightning initiates;
How it propagates, sometimes through miles of air;
And what happens when it smashes into the ground.

At the Florida centre, Dwyer and his colleagues are trying to get a handle on these questions by creating lightning in semi-controlled conditions. “When a thunderstorm comes overhead – and that’s fairly common here in Florida since we’re the lightning capital of the US – we measure the electric fields and we can tell when conditions are good for lightning,” he says. “The lightning is going to strike anyway some place, so why don’t we make it strike here and now?”

You can read the full interview here.

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