How the USSR created GIANT artificial lightning bolts (PHOTOS)

Tesla high-voltage towers in the Istra city, Russia

Tesla high-voltage towers in the Istra city, Russia

Legion Media
An abandoned apparatus in the forests of Moscow Region is one of the largest high-voltage generators and was used to test the durability of planes. Now, it’s popular among photographers and bloggers.

The imposing futuristic apparatus is located close to the town of Istra, Moscow Region. This scientific apparatus is a test stand, built in 1968 under Soviet authority. Back then, the structure was a classified object, but, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was abandoned for a long time.

Its official name is/; ‘Test stands of the High Voltage Research Center of the All-Russia Electrotechnical Institute’. But, people just call it ‘Tesla coils’.

This is one of the most powerful high voltage generators built in the USSR. It could produce voltage comparable to one second of electricity production by all power stations in the country - combined.

Its main purpose was to test the lightning insulation and resistance to powerful electromagnetic radiation of aircraft and electrical equipment. Such tests were conducted to study the effect of electricity on different objects. For example, a lightning strike on an aircraft was modeled there, after which the consequences of such a strike to its body were studied. Lightning bolt sizes varied from quite small to significant, equal to the variety of natural lightning bolts.

Istra’s ‘Tesla coils’ are, in reality, not at all connected to the invention of Nikola Tesla. They were dubbed so as they resembled the scientist’s invention; but, by its operation principle, this device is not a true Tesla coil.

The device consists of three giant transformer cascades, a platform and a support facility. The tallest tower is its most powerful generator, capable of producing electric discharges of 9 million volts. Such voltage can be found in real natural lightning. The tower is a Marx generator (invented by German engineer Erwin Marx in 1924). Electric energy is passed to a small ball hanging over a platform and an artificial lightning bolt strikes objects placed below. Once, scientists managed to produce a 150-meter-long discharge with the help of this generator. 

The most photogenic part of the structure, so loved by photographers – the cascade of 3.6 million volt transformers and the 2.2 million volt constant voltage system – never created lightning. They were needed to test power lines and the durability of different kinds of cables.

After the collapse of the country and the underfunding of the science sector, the test stand fell out of use. Now, the entire test ground is owned by Rosatom State Corporation; there’s a security checkpoint at the entrance. However, the ‘Tesla coils’ near Istra are almost never used today, due to the high cost of the entire process.

But, thanks to its alien look, this place is very popular among photographers, thrill-seekers and science fiction fans. It’s on many top lists of the most strange places and objects located in Moscow Region.

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