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LIDAR system uses lasers to detect clear air turbulence before it hits

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Fact: turbulence is no fun at all. Aside from the brief moments of bone-deep terror it can cause passengers, clear air turbulence (CAT) can also prove costly for airlines in terms of damages. To help pilots deal with difficult-to-spot areas where CAT is likely to occur, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) is spearheading a new joint European project known as DELICAT. Essentially, the DELICAT program calls for planes to be equipped with a light detection and ranging instrument (LIDAR) that emits short-wave ultraviolet lasers. Radiation then bounces off oxygen and nitrogen particles in the air, indicating fluctuations in air density that signal the presence of CAT pockets. Until the end of August, the DLR will run test flights in a specially modified Cessna Citation plane to both show off LIDAR's capabilities and to give researchers invaluable data on CAT patterns. Though the system is still in its infancy, the folks at the DLR hope that the technology will one day become a standard part of commercial air travel.

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