Optical rocket technology allows matter to be accelerated with conventional laser light

At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (Nebraska), physics professor Donald Umstadder set up an experiment that, in practice, proved the theory of the "optical rocket" to be correct. Umstadder himself predicted this effect twenty years ago, then numerical simulations were carried out at the University of Shanghai. And so, the bottom line is a new tool for influencing light with broad perspectives.

In Umstadder's experiment in a plasma cloud, target electrons were purposefully fired with intense laser pulses. And with a successful hit, due to the cumulative effects of changing the structure of the plasma cloud, the electrons received instant and incredibly strong acceleration. We are talking about relativistic energies - particles were accelerated almost to the speed of light. They were set in motion by such significant forces that scientists compared it with launching a rocket, and the effect itself was called an "optical rocket".

To roughly understand the delight and surprise of scientists, Umstadder makes such a comparison. Imagine what acceleration and what kind of load an astronaut experiences when the rocket overcomes gravity. So, in an "optical rocket" the force of impact on an electron is trillion trillion times higher, and this is not a misprint. To obtain relativistic particles, to accelerate them to light speeds, huge particle accelerators are used on Earth, whose work is extremely expensive. And here the usual laboratory equipment, plasma and laser are involved.

In addition to creating new, compact and possibly mobile particle accelerators, the "optical rocket" effect opens the way for the study of new ways of using light as a tool for physical impact. Today, everything is limited to low-power technologies, such as "optical tweezers", but the future promises interesting discoveries. The very fact of using the force of light to directly accelerate matter already has a colossal scientific effect.