From the Department of “That’s Incredibly Stupid But What Do Expect From Competing World Governments” comes the insanely dangerous idea to make science fiction a stark reality by creating a laser so powerful it can rend asunder space/time continuum. What could possibly go wrong?
We could not make this stuff up.
In 2011, scientists working with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Switzerland announced their plan to build a laser so powerful it could literally rip apart the fabric of space.
At the time, team member John Collider, director of the Central Laser Facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Didcot, said the Extreme Light Infrastructure Ultra High-Field laser would be 200 times more powerful than any other comparable technology on the planet. “At this kind of intensity we start to get into unexplored territory, as it is an area of physics that we have never been before,” he said.
This laser was designed to boil a vacuum – which is not really empty space. It is filled with tiny virtual particles that pop in and out of existence at such a high rate of speed that proving their existence was challenging.
The team planned to focus their ELI Ultra-High-Field laser on some empty space to see if the device could pull apart this vacuum to reveal the virtual particles for the very first time.
This uber-laser, 10 times more powerful than any other laser in existence, might be applied to radiography, cancer therapies, and accelerating radioisotope decay. Or it could turn Earth into the Death Star.
The scientific thinking behind this new technology is that a laser of sufficient strength could “boil” constantly state-changing virtual particles directly from the fabric of space, keeping them in our plane of existence long enough for them to be detected, measured, and recorded. 200 petawatts of power focused onto a single point for less than a trillionth of a second is the functional requirement. (One petawatt is equal to one billion millions watts.)
By design, the beam of light emitted by the ELI Ultra-High-Field laser is so intense that it would be equal to “the power received by the Earth from the Sun focused onto a speck smaller than a tip of a pin.”
Although the public is assured that these high-performance lasers are intended to study particles in space rather than blow up the planet, critics advise caution when tinkering around with the space/time continuum. There are worries about accidentally creating a black hole, for example.
CERN scientists want to test is whether or not other dimensions exist. One theory is that dimensions of reality exist extremely close to each other, layered like the pages in a book. The ultra-laser will be focused on piercing one of the dimensional layers next to ours.
Again, critics think this is a Very Bad Idea. If a neighboring dimension did exist, and if a laser did cut into it, might it not serve as a portal into our dimension of…who knows what?
Professor John Collier directs the Central Laser Facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Didcot, Oxfordshire, where the ELI project is being developed. He confirmed that experiments with a 200-power laser are unprecedented – and therefore, unpredictable: “At this kind of intensity we start to get into unexplored territory as it is an area of physics that we have never been before.”
Associate Professor of Theoretical Physics at Plymouth University in England, Dr. Thomas Heinzl, also confirmed that these scientists don’t really have a clue about how safe what they are doing is:
“ELI is going to take us into an uncharted regime of physics. There could well be some surprises along the way.”
With an estimated cost of £1 billion (US$1.3 billion), the ELI Ultra-High Field laser is due for completion by the end of the decade.
The European Commission jumped on board with this future-tech project, approving plans to build three other prototype lasers as part of the ELI project for the Ultra-High Field laser.
In January 2018, Communist Chinese physicist Ruxin Li announced that his research team had built a device capable of breaking all standing records for the most powerful light pulses ever recorded by humans.
The Shanghai Superintense Ultrafast Laser Facility (SULF) is a single cylinder of titanium-doped sapphire about the width of a Frisbee. The system focuses light on the crystal and bounces it off mirrors and through lenses. The result was 5.3 petawatts (PW) – achieved in 2016.
The laser pulses are last the infinitesimally brief period of less than a trillionth of a second.
Li and his research associates planned to begin construction of a 100-PW laser known as the Station of Extreme Light (SEL) in 2018. “By 2023, it could be flinging pulses into a chamber 20 meters underground, subjecting targets to extremes of temperature and pressure not normally found on Earth, a boon to astrophysicists and materials scientists alike.”
Li said that lasers this powerful could demonstrate with ease that a highly-focused beam of intense light can tear both electrons (one of the building blocks of matter) and their antimatter counterparts (positrons) from the vacuum of space — called “breaking the vacuum.”
Such a demonstration would show that matter and energy are interchangeable, just as Einstein proved in his famous E=mc2 equation.
No offense, but Li sounded rather like a mad scientist when he enthused, “That would be very exciting. It would mean you could generate something from nothing.”
Not to be outdone, physicists in Russia have drafted the design for a 180-PW laser system which they call the Exawatt Center for Extreme Light Studies (XCELS), and researchers in Japan have introduced proposals for a 30-PW laser.
What could possibly go wrong? One investigator summarized the situation this way:
“The very thing used to create particle/anti-particle pairs could conceivably be used to sustain their separation…and as a remote possibility, collect a bunch of them and (crawling way out onto the end of the twig of speculation), conceivably create whole molecules of ‘anti-elements.'”
Anti-elements mean antimatter. Do you know what happens when matter and anti-matter co-exist? The two destroy one another in an incredible burst of energy. In the words of Corbin Dallas in the 1997 sci-fi movie “The Fifth Element,” you get a Big Badda Boom.