What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear that BAE Systems is working on a way to turn Earth’s atmosphere into a giant magnifying glass? If you thought. “We’re all gonna get fried like little ants,” you’re obviously a guy. BAE claims that’s not the purpose of its proposed Laser Developed Atmospheric Lens (LDAL), but it is being designed for the military so you know it’s a possibility.
The idea for this magnifying-glass-in-the-sky comes from a real optical phenomenon known as the Kerr effect or the quadratic electro-optic effect. Discovered in 1875 by Scottish physicist John Kerr, the effect is a change in the refractive index of a material – in this case, the ionosphere – caused by an electrical field – in this case, a laser beam. Theoretically, a directed-energy laser beam pointed at a small area of the atmosphere by a high-altitude plane will heat the air and turn it into a magnifying lens, allowing the pilot to have magnified view of the ground below. Turn the beam off and the lens disappears as the ionosphere cools.
But wait … there’s more.
The BAE atmospheric lens could also act as a deflector shield against other laser weapons. If a plane detects a laser weapon being fired at it, it can fire its own to form an LDAL shield to change the direction of the beam away from it. This all happens at the speed of light which means all of this laser fighting and deflecting is computer-controlled.
The LDAL will also have the ability to create images of whole cities in the manner of a mirage, thus giving the military more accurate pictures of enemy areas as well as the ability to distort the view of enemy troops by reflecting decoy cities. Could a secret test of this capability already be causing recent appearances around the world of ghost cities? Is this a resurrection of Project Blue Beam?
However, there’s still some fun for the little boys at heart who are now sitting in fighter jets looking for new weapons to fire. The LDAL can also work like a super-high-powered Fresnel lens, which concentrates low-powered light into a tightly-focused beam that not only can be seen for miles (like a lighthouse) but can also be used to start fires and burn objects (like the mean little kid with a magnifying glass and a hill of ants).
While militaries would love to have a weapon like this now, BAE has no operators standing by to take their orders because the technology is as much as 50 years away from reality. Right now, it’s still a concept developed by engineers at BAE, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the specialist optical sensors company LumOptica.
That’s a lot of engineering power to build yet another weapon. Isn’t there something else LDAL could do to benefit mankind? Temporary reading lenses? Remote barbecue starting? Hologram amusement parks recreating other parts of the world for all to see?