My Maser Challenge to The Tennessean



The Tennessean has a story about Chuck Mangino, who wants to stop tornadoes by shooting masers (which are like lasers, but use microwaves instead of light) ahead of the funnel clouds in order to disrupt their formation.

Listen, I think it's sweet and awesome of Mangino to want to help, and YouTube is certainly a good place to take your ideas to the public. But why did The Tennessean run this story without even finding out if it's plausible in the first place? I mean, if I put up a YouTube video saying that I was going to stop tornadoes by flinging unicorns into the funnels and 2,000 people watched it, would The Tennessean run a story about it? Can we not count on the paper to verify whether unicorns actually exist before touting my tornado-stopping unicorn plan?

Which brings me to masers. Yes, The Tennessean called a few people to try to find out if this was plausible:

A Tennessee State University professor declined comment on the video. One from Middle Tennessee State University didn't return a voicemail or emails.


“This isn’t something I’ve heard of and not something the National Weather Service is involved in,” said Nashville-based meteorologist James LaRosa. “We’re more into modeling and forecasting instead of disrupting.”

The Tennessean did not, though, google masers. If they had, they would have found that masers have been in the news a lot lately, because it was less than a year ago — in fact more recently than Mangino made his video — that a maser that could operate at room temperature (and not only at near absolute zero) was invented.

They might have even found this article from the BBC that contains this paragraph:

Microwaves pass through many materials that light cannot, such as clouds and skin, meaning that beyond telecommunications and space applications, maser-enabled systems could outperform medical diagnostics or detectors for explosives.

So here is my question for The Tennessean. If the usefulness of a maser lies in its ability to easily pass through things, including the specifically mentioned clouds — all other physics or health of the people below the maser questions aside — how would aiming it at a cloud result in anything other than it passing through the cloud? What is the mechanism by which the maser beam is going to stop inside the very kind of thing it easily passes through?

I don't get it. This story only serves to either make Mangino look foolish — when he's obviously well-meaning and not hurting anyone — which is kind of a jerk move, or it gives an air of plausibility to something that simply doesn't work this way. (Think of trying to stop a full-strength flashlight beam three feet from the bulb in thin air for an analogous problem; electromagnetic waves stop when they hit something that can stop them, not because you've said they can only go so far.) Either way, it is a disservice to The Tennessean's readers.

So why would they run this story? At the least, why would they run it before hearing back from someone who can tell them whether it's actually scientifically possible?

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