SCIENCE
03/16/2012 01:47 pm ET

Lightning-Plane Strikes Studied In Artificial Lightning Lab (VIDEO)

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

In ancient times, people thought the gods made lightning. Nowadays, scientists in Wales make lightning in a lab--and it's 10 times more powerful than the real thing. In the video above, you can see scientists at Cardiff University's Morgan-Botti Lightning Laboratory as they zap various objects and record the resulting explosions.

It sure sounds like fun, but project manager Philip Leichauer and his team have a good reason for their experiments. They're developing 'skins' for airplanes--thin coverings that can withstand lightning strikes when a plane is up in the clouds.

“If you look at lightning itself, it is a lot of charge gathering in the base of a cloud, and suddenly being discharged to the ground by the strike," Dr. Manu Haddad, of the university's engineering school, told Wales Online. "We can mirror this using capacitors--it can make a large charge, in a similar way, and discharge them very quickly."

Will the new technology save lives? Quite possibly. Lightning strikes civilian aircraft an average of once a year, NBC reporter Michelle Kosinski says in the video. The strikes are extremely dangerous for small planes, though the last time lightning caused the crash of a large plane was in the 1960s.

The scientists are pleased with their results so far. After the home-made lightning causes some objects to blow up spectacularly, it comes as a surprise when Leichauer zaps one of the experimental panels—there's hardly any damage.

Kosinski notes that the blast "just basically scorches the surface a tiny tiny bit." Leichauer replies, "Yep, and if you look at the other side, you'll see that there's not really even a dent."

ALL-ALSO-ON-HUFFPOST

CONVERSATIONS