Government officials in Europe have approved a proposal that may lead to the creation of the world's most powerful laser.
The announcement might sound a tad frightening, but not to worry, it wouldn't be used to harm anyone. Instead, it would be used to help shed some light on some of the more perplexing mysteries of quantum mechanics.
The project, known as the Extreme Light Infrastructure project initially involves the development of three 10 petawatt lasers to accelerate particles and allow scientists to better understand the nature of extremely fast occurrences in atoms. The results of these experiments may open the door to the grandaddy of them all: a fourth laser that will combine 10 beams to fire pulses that pack a whopping 200 petawatts.
Researchers theorize that a mega-beam from this laser should be powerful enough to rip apart the vacuum that's the very fabric of space-time itself. New Scientist explains how a powerful laser can create an effect where ghost particles can become observable:
The uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics implies that space can never be truly empty. Instead, random fluctuations give birth to a seething cauldron of particles, such as electrons, and their antimatter counterparts, called positrons.
These so-called "virtual particles" normally annihilate one another too quickly for us to notice them. But physicists predicted in the 1930s that a very strong electric field would transform virtual particles into real ones that we can observe. The field pushes them in opposite directions because they have opposite electric charges, separating them so that they cannot destroy one another. Lasers are ideally suited to this task because their light boasts strong electric fields.
The most reassuring part of all of this though, is that the pulses will only last a tiny fraction of a second, actually 1.5 x 10-14 seconds. The lasers are scheduled to be in place by 2015 and will located in Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania.
(via New Scientist)
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