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EU Scientists Working On Laser To Rip a Hole In Spacetime 575

astroengine writes "Those pesky physicists are at it again; they want to build a laser so powerful that it will literally rip spacetime apart. Why? To prove the existence of virtual particles in the quantum vacuum, potentially unravel extra dimensions and possibly find the root of dark matter. The $1.6 billion Extreme Light Infrastructure Ultra-High Field Facility (known as ELI) will be built somewhere in Europe by the end of the decade and physicists are hoping the ten high-powered lasers — delivering 200 petawatts of power at a target for less than a trillionth of a second — will turn up some surprises about the very fabric of the Universe."
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EU Scientists Working On Laser To Rip a Hole In Spacetime

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  • by elfprince13 ( 1521333 ) on Thursday November 03, 2011 @10:18PM (#37943500) Homepage
    That actually happened several times. Ever heard of Louis Slotin or Harry Daghlian?
  • by pz ( 113803 ) on Thursday November 03, 2011 @10:23PM (#37943546) Journal

    someone accidentally caused a nuclear fission without taking proper precautions at a lab

    That happened, at least twice. See the WIkipedia entries for Harry Daghlian, Jr [] and Louis Slotin [].

  • by sapphire wyvern ( 1153271 ) on Thursday November 03, 2011 @10:34PM (#37943652)

    I think the idea is that you relatively slowly charge up some kind of energy bank, eg ultracapacitors or something, using relatively low power. And then you discharge the bank very very fast - so you get 200 petawatts output, for a trillionth of a second, and then the energy banks are drained and need to be recharged.

    It's possible that the energy capacitance is actually an inherent part of the laser physics rather than being stored electrically. I'm not really sure what the details are.

    But, 200 PW for one trillionth of a second is actually only 200 kJ total energy if I've done the math correctly - ie about 9% of the dietary energy content of a Big Mac. This would not actually take very long for the world's total electrical generation capacity to deliver. :)

  • by BlueParrot ( 965239 ) on Thursday November 03, 2011 @10:53PM (#37943790)

    don't actually exist. virtual particles are just mathematical simplicities. They are only a *model* of how physics works. Even in the name- they are "virtual" because they are just mathematical abstractions. nothing more.

    The electric field started out as a model of how charges interact, then he noticed that waves in the electromagnetic field would produce energy transfer at a speed that was the same as that of light.

    Einstein's theory of relativity was just a model of how gravity works, a gravitational field was just a mathematical tool for predicting the motions of objects, and black holes were mathematical curiosities that probably did not exist in reality. Today we have observed binary star systems gradually changing their orbits as they lose energy due to gravity waves. Frame dragging of space itself surrounding the earth has been empirically measured in satellites, and several black holes have been found by astronomers.

    Quantum mechanical wave functions were models for how elementary particles work, and the Dirac equation predicted negative energy solutions, suggesting each particle had a double of opposite charge. A few years latter the positron was discovered.

    Circulation in fluid dynamics is a mathematical quantity used in predicting the flow of fluids. As it happens it cannot simply disappear without viscosity, leading to the concept of vortex tubes, the most famous example of which is a tornado.

    Perhaps the greatest prejudice to new ideas is however found in mathematics. Whenever new numbers have been discovered, how have we named them? Negative, irrational , imaginary ... As it happens complex numbers are inherent to the laws of quantum mechanics. You would have a very hard time trying to explain why matter sticks together without them.

  • by paleo2002 ( 1079697 ) on Thursday November 03, 2011 @10:58PM (#37943812)
    I never thought I'd see a resonance cascade, let alone create one . . .
  • Re:Results how? (Score:5, Informative)

    by reverseengineer ( 580922 ) on Thursday November 03, 2011 @11:22PM (#37943930)
    It wouldn't be so much tearing a hole in the fabric of space as making a ripple. The laser's electric field would make a wake in the sea of transient vacuum particles that prevents their instantaneous annihilation, and hopefully lets some exotic particles exist for long enough to be detected. Despite the idea that this "quantum foam" of seething virtual particles would be the fabric of space-time, the answers to where and when phenomena would be detected are most likely "in detectors just outside the laser's path" and "femtoseconds after the laser is fired" and not perhaps "in another universe" or "85 million years in the past." This is not a FOX show, after all.

    Actually, far more energetic phenomena-- gamma ray bursts-- have been studied to observe the effects their travels through the fabric of space-time on the way to Earth have had, and the results have been pretty mundane. Even for ridiculously high-energy gamma ray photons, the fabric of the universe behaves as being essentially smooth and respectful of general relativity. Maybe we'll see something a bit wilder given a chance to take a closer look, but to describe "pushing some particles apart so we can see them" as "tear apart the vacuum of space" is a bit of an exaggeration.
  • by Hentes ( 2461350 ) on Friday November 04, 2011 @06:34AM (#37945680)

    Noone is ripping anything. It's just a sensationalist article. Energy concentrations far bigger than this happen in the Universe.

In less than a century, computers will be making substantial progress on ... the overriding problem of war and peace. -- James Slagle