Could We Use Lasers as Weapons?


(Source: from Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi)

We’ve all seen the infamous death star on Star Wars, a moon-sized weapon that can fire a laser and destroy objects the size of planets! An epic moment in sci-fi history, right? But just how sci-fi is the death star? Could these lasers and other sci-fi weapons exist in the real world? Not so long time ago, in a galaxy not so far, far away… a group of scientists ‘accidentally’ created a real-life lightsaber. A team from Harvard university in America has found a way to bring to life the famous weapon wielded by on-screen heroes such as obi-wan Kenobi and Yoda, and the infamous villain Darth Vader. To imagine how lasers can be used as weapons, think of a light bulb; it emits light in a small space surrounding it, this light is not focussed in any general direction in space. Now think of a torch, it shines a beam of light in one direction, it is more focussed than a light bulb. Lasers essentially fire an intense beam of highly-focussed photons in one direction, photons being packets of light energy that have no mass. The team of scientists managed to get lots of these tiny waves of light to stick together and form a molecule that has mass. The reason this is so interesting is that “most of the properties of light we know about originate from the fact that photons are massless and do not interact”, according to a Harvard physics professor, Mikhail Lukin. He is also quoted as saying “When these photons interact with each other, they’re pushing against and deflect each other. The physics of what’s happening in these molecules is similar to what we see in the movies. However, it isn’t all quite as good as it sounds; the definitive whoosh sounds the lightsaber makes as it is swung around seem to stay in the realm of sci-fi, and if you wanted to cut through flesh (or any other objects for that matter) you would be equally disappointed. Lasers are used more commonly by the public as barcode scanners (not quite as fun as a lightsaber, is it?) We’re still a long way from using the weapons seen on Star Trek or Star Wars, so don’t expect anyone to be saying things like “set phasers to stun” or becoming Jedi Knights anytime soon. Currently, laser weapons are used in the US military to guide missiles or other projectiles, and to disable drones, cars and mobile phones. One such weapon, termed the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) has seen testing in the field since last year. The weapon uses an intense beam of infrared light either on a low-output, in which to warn or cripple vehicles sensors, or on a high output, to shut down a ships motor leaving it ‘dead in the water’. More personal weapons the size of a rifle are also becoming more common in the military and can be used to temporarily daze or distract an enemy without blinding them. Of course that is providing the soldier using the weapon has better aim than a storm trooper. Whilst laser weaponry already exists in the real world, it will probably be a while before we see lightsabers or phasers on sale in toy stores. There is a silver lining, though, in that the death star probably won’t happen anytime soon either, so at least the planet won’t get destroyed. Now, can someone please invent time travel and stop Jar Jar Binks from ever happening?

#JordanReed #Technology #Physics

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