China's "Station of Extreme Light" to Probe Secrets of the Universe --World's Most Powerful New Laser Can Simulate a Massive Star or Black Hole
In 2016, the Shanghai Institute of Optics and Fine Mechanics created the world's highest peak power pulsed lasers - intense lasers that generate beams in extremely short bursts - clocking in at 5.3 quadrillion watts (a quadrillion is 1 followed by 15 zeros) in less than 30 quadrillionths of a second --a laser 20 times stronger than the most powerful in existence. It's now building an even stronger one, which can produce 100 quadrillion watts - about 50,000 times the planet's total power consumption -- a light so intense that it would equal the amount of the energy our Earth receives from the Sun.
The laser is part of a new laboratory called Station of Extreme Light at the Shanghai Coherent Light Facility, one of China's key science facilities that include other major projects like the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope, better known as FAST, the world's largest radio telescope.
The station also will house a new hard X-ray free-electron laser, one of the world's most powerful X-ray lasers used for imaging extremely small phenomena-like protein structures and chemical reactions.
Scientists around the world, from the United States to Japan, have conducted a feasibility study and endorsed the station's planning and design in July. The facility will be completed within a decade and its applications "will go far beyond other existing or planned facilities", according to the review committee.
One of the main objectives is using the laser to unravel the "weird quantum property of empty space, which has puzzled scientists for more than 80 years", Li said. "Normally, a vacuum is thought of as completely empty, but in quantum electrodynamics, it is actually full of virtual particles that appear and vanish all the time," he said. "However an extremely strong electric and magnetic field can affect this space and the light passing through it. So vacuum can actually behave as a prism, or 3-D movie glasses."
Scientist only got a glimpse of this strange phenomenon recently by observing neutron stars, which are the dense remnant cores of massive stars that have at least 10 times more mass and billions of times stronger magnetic fields than the sun.
But these stars are often light years away, making them extremely hard to study accurately. "Now for the first time, we can directly create and then measure the quantum properties of vacuum on earth using the laser," Li said.
In physics, the equation for power is energy divided by time. By reducing the time to a quadrillionth of a second, scientists can create immense power output with little energy. "The Station of Extreme Light will become a unique and valuable platform for scientists around world, from physics to medicine, to cooperate and study," Li said.
In 2015, Japanese scientists built what was then the most powerful laser in Osaka, which produced a 2 quadrillion-watt pulse in less than a trillionth of a second. The U.S., United Kingdom, France, Germany and Canada also have their own intense laser facilities.
The Daily Galaxy via ECNS China
Image at top of page: An artist's conception shows two merging black holes similar to those detected by LIGO.