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Why can the most powerful lasers in the world reveal the secrets of the universe?

Why can the most powerful lasers in the world reveal the secrets of the universe?

Illustrative image,

Lasers have been used in astronomy for many years

  • author, Charlotte Lytton
  • scroll, From BBC News

Inside a University of Michigan research laboratory, a bright green light fills a giant vacuum chamber. It's the size of two tennis courts. The walls are protected by 60cm of concrete to prevent radiation leakage, and staff wear masks and hairnets to ensure sensitive electronics are not affected.

This is Zeus, soon to be the most powerful laser in the United States of America – and now appearing in his first official experiments.

Unlike continuous lasers that scan your barcodes in stores, Zeus is a pulsed laser, firing bursts of up to a few billionths of a second. Each pulse will be able to reach a maximum power of three petawatts, which is equivalent to a thousand times the entire world's electricity consumption. A laser capable of producing such highly compressed energy would help researchers study the quantum laws that underpin reality, for example, or recreate extreme astrophysical conditions in space.

But Zeus isn't the only massive laser that could unlock new discoveries in the coming years: a number of other high-energy lasers at facilities from Europe to Asia are hot on its heels.

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