Incredible new laser can focus all sunlight reaching Earth into speck of dust

Scientists have made an incredible new laser that can focus all of the sunlight reaching Earth into a spot that's the same size as a single speck of dust.

The breakthrough has been made by a Korean research team led by senior author Chang-hee Nam, a plasma physicist and professor at Gwangju Institute of Science & Technology after more than 10 years of experiments.

Their team revealed their amazing development of a laser with record-breaking intensity over 10²³ watts per square centimetre in a paper published on Thursday, May 6, in the journal Optica.

Nam told Vice in an email that you can compare the intensity of this laser beam to the combined power of all of the sunlight across the entire planet but pressed together into roughly the size of a speck of dust or a single red blood cell.

"The laser intensity of 10²³ W/cm² is comparable to the light intensity obtainable by focusing all the sunlight reaching Earth to a spot of 10 microns," explained Nam.

This powerful laser can be used to examine phenomena believed to be responsible for high-power cosmic rays, which have energies of more than a quadrillion (1015) electronvolts (eV).

Although scientists know that these rays originate from somewhere outside our solar system, how they are made and what is forming them has been a longstanding mystery.

The team hopes the breakthrough will also have huge benefits in the future for cancer patients.

Nam added: "We have developed ultrahigh power femtosecond lasers for more than a decade, reaching the output power of 4 PW (1015 W) in 2017,” says Nam. “We then developed the laser technology to focus the beam size of 28 cm to 1 micron, for which we have to make the laser wavefront superb using a deformable mirror."

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Nam said that this high-intensity laser will open doors to explore some of the universe’s most fundamental questions that had previously only been explored by theoreticians.

"With such ultrahigh laser intensity, we can tackle such phenomena as electron-positron pair production from light-light interactions… This kind of phenomena is supposed to happen in the early universe, plasma jets from supernova explosions and from black holes," said Nam in a press release.

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The scientist said it can use it to experimentally test and access theoretical ideas, some of which were "first proposed almost a century ago".

He added: "This high-intensity laser will let us tackle new and challenging science, especially strong field quantum electrodynamics, which has been mainly dealt with by theoreticians.

"In addition to helping us better understand astrophysical phenomena, it could also provide the information necessary to develop new sources for a type of radiation treatment that uses high-energy protons to treat cancer."

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