Bessel beam lasers have precise patterns of light that form wave like ripples; a wave directed at the appropriate angle may ‘pull’ an object.
Outside of physics, they have been used to insert materials into living cells.
“We show explicitly that the necessary condition to realize a negative (pulling) optical force is the simultaneous excitation of multipoles in the particle and if the projection of the total photon momentum along the propagation direction is small (as in some propagation invariant beams), attractive optical force is possible,” the paper states.
“This possibility adds "pulling" as an additional degree of freedom to optical micromanipulation.”
This is not the first time the feat has been attempted. Last year, physicists at the Australian National University devised a technique to move tiny glass particles nearly two meters across a laboratory.
However, the system would cease to operate in the vacuum of space: It requires superheated air to suspend objects.
Efforts to research a tractor beam type effect date back to the 1960’s. Fringe physics theories have involved directing “anti-gravitational force” towards or away from an object, gravity beams, and floating objects above electromagnetically levitated superconducting disks.
23rd century technology functions very differently. In Star Trek, a starship’s tractor beam utilizes so-called attenuated linear graviton beam to move around other sub-warp objects such as asteroids or enemy vessels.
Here’s some more analysis of Star Trek science:
- NASA explores everything from communications to wormholes
- Scientific American examines “Warp Drive” propulsion
- Noted professor Lawrence M. Krauss wrote a book about the “Physics of Star Trek”
- Classic Star Trek on CBS