Why Navy scientists plan to shoot a laser across the Chesapeake Bay tonight

A strange green light beamed across the Chesapeake Bay after sundown is just the thing to stir up excitement in Southern Maryland.

Could it be a UFO? The Northern Lights? Some foreign threat? Not quite.

Navy scientists plan to test fire a long-range laser across the breadth of the Chesapeake Tuesday night. The laser is harmless to the eye and will shut down if a boat or plane comes within 300 meters, Navy officials said in a statement. They announced the tests Monday to head off any speculation about domestic — or intergalactic — threats.

But what exactly is this laser? Navy officials won't say.

"The eye-safe green laser will be transmitted across the Chesapeake Bay to evaluate the performance of a laser system at long range over water," said Steven Van Der Werff, a spokesman for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. He declined to say more.

Scientists will shoot a "controlled beam" as far as 13 miles between Navy research sites on Tilghman Island, a watercraft stationed in the bay, and a 168-acre compound near Chesapeake Beach in Calvert County. Scientists at the compound, a site known as Chesapeake Bay Detachment, test radar systems, electronic warfare and optical devices, according to the website.

Adm. Bill Moran, the vice chief of naval operations, said in a speech last week that Navy researchers will soon test a big laser, a 150-kilowatt weapon system. His announcement made headlines, but Van Der Werff said that was not the laser to be tested Tuesday.

The tests Tuesday are scheduled to end at 10:45 p.m.

tprudente@baltsun.com

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