Jan 27, 2018 I Paul Seaburn

Scientists Building Giant Lasers to Rip Holes in Space

When someone says they plan to “break the vacuum,” this probably means they’re a parent about to attempt to clean a room normally occupied by a teenager … unless they’re a laser physicist. Then it means they’re getting ready to use a laser to rip a hole in empty space and pull out the matter/antimatter combo of electrons and positrons. Isn’t ripping holes in space the job of the Large Hadron Collider? Regardless of who is doing the ripping, is this a good idea?

As with many sci-fi-to-real-life stories these days (see “Cloning monkeys”), this news comes out of China, where physicist Ruxin Li is leading a team at the Shanghai Superintense Ultrafast Laser Facility (is “superintense ultrafast” redundant or scary or both?) in developing a laser that will create the world’s most powerful light pulses. How powerful? The team has already built a record-breaking laser that distills light into pulses measuring 5.3 million billion watts or petawatts. They’re nearing completion of a 10 petawatt laser that is 1,000 times more powerful than the world’s electrical grids … combined. And they’re just five years away from a machine with the doomsday-ish name of the Station of Extreme Light that will be capable of pulses reaching 100 petawatts.

What do they plan to point the Station of Extreme Light at? As usual, the researchers have a noble cause (also called a ‘cover story’) and a sinister one. The ‘good’ purpose of building a cylinder of sapphire coated with titanium capable of shooting a 100 petawatt laser that can create temperatures never seen on Earth is to help develop new medicines.

Once that’s done, the fun starts. Aiming the Station of Extreme Light at a space vacuum will ‘break the vacuum’ and prove Albert Einstein’s E=mc2 in the reverse direction by creating matter (in this case, electrons and their antimatter counterparts – positrons) from energy. Or, as Li puts it:

“It would mean you could generate something from nothing.”

What could possibly go wrong?

That probably depends on where you aim the Station of Extreme Light. China is working on lasers to put in orbit and disintegrate space junk, debris and perhaps dangerous asteroids. The U.S. Department of Energy is developing ground lasers to knock out drones. In its non-weapon form, the Station of Extreme Light is a particle accelerator that is, unlike the Large Hadron Collider, inexpensive, small and easy to build. That could put the LHC out of business … and potentially put that power in the hands of entities whose purposes may not be as noble as those of government – OK, that’s debatable but we’ve got to believe that someone will control this power. Remember, it’s just the opposite of nuclear power’s matter-to-energy side of Einstein’s theory … and we know how that worked out.

One last thing to think about. China is leading the research in these vacuum-ripping lasers and Russia is not far behind. The U.S. is.

“It would mean you could generate something from nothing.”

Is it time to stop dreaming of phasers and ripping holes and start working on harnessing the power of lasers for something other than a weapon?

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

Join MU Plus+ and get exclusive shows and extensions & much more! Subscribe Today!