The world’s strongest laser just made the universe’s smallest black hole—completely by accident.
Researchers were exploring what the full strength of an X-ray laser, the world’s most powerful kind, could do to an atom when the molecule reacted far differently than what they expected. Instead of getting pulverized into oblivion, they created a “molecular black hole.”
The laser-zapped atom’s electrons were stripped away from the inside out and created a vacuum that started sucking in electrons from other atoms surrounding it. The molecule lost 50 electrons in 30 femtoseconds (millionths of a billionth of a second).
Scientists at Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, where the experiment was conducted, described the resulting phenomenon “like a black hole gobbling a spiraling disk of matter” in a press release. It’s the first time the bizarre phenomenon has been seen.
The Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), used in the experiment, produced an x-ray laser that’s a 100 times more intense than all the sunlight on the Earth’s surface focused onto a thumbnail, Scientific American reports.
Scientists believe the findings, published Wednesday in Nature, could improve image analysis of viruses, bacteria, and other small organisms.
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