Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Photonic booms may help illuminate astronomical secrets

12.01.2015

If you sweep a laser pointer across the Moon fast enough, you can create spots that actually move faster than light. Anyone can do it.

At a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Seattle, Wash., today, Robert Nemiroff, a physics professor at Michigan Technological University, reported that this theoretical curiosity may turn out to be practically useful out in the cosmos. When a superluminal sweep occurs, it typically starts with a flash that may reveal previously unknown three-dimensional information about the scattering object.


This image depicts Hubble's Variable Nebula.

Credit: William Sparks (STScI), Sylvia Baggett (STScI) et al., & the Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/ STScI/ NASA)

Flashes, dubbed "photonic booms" because they are directly analogous to sonic booms, may be detectable on the Moon, on passing asteroids, on fast moving shadows cast on reflecting dust clouds near variable stars, and on objects illuminated by the rapidly rotating beam of a pulsar, said Nemiroff, author of a study accepted for publication by the Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia, with a preliminary version available online at http://arxiv.org/abs/1412.7581. "And if detected, we could learn more about all of these objects," said Nemiroff.

"The concept, although not proven in practice, is quite intriguing," said Rosanne Di Stefano, a leading researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

To reveal the size and surface features of asteroids passing near the Earth, a laser beam might be swept across the rock's surface thousands of times a second, with each sweep forcing a harmless but telling photonic boom. The flashes could be recorded with high-speed cameras attached to large telescopes, potentially mapping out major features on the asteroid.

Photonic booms could also be seen much farther out in the universe. An example occurs in Hubble's Variable Nebula in the constellation of Monoceros. There, shadows cast by clouds moving between the bright star "R Mon" and reflecting dust move so fast that they might create photonics booms visible even for days or weeks.

The physics that creates the photonic boom is tied to the faster-than-light sweep speeds of the illuminating spots and cast shadows. Specifically, a flash is seen by an observer when the speed of the scattered spot toward the observer drops from above the speed of light to below the speed of light. The phenomenon is possible only because the spots contain no mass and so cannot only move faster than light, but decelerate past the speed of light without violating Einstein's theory of special relativity.

Details of the effect hinge on the interplay between the time it takes for a sweeping light beam to cross an object, and the time it takes for the light beam to traverse the depth of the object. Therefore, measuring photonic booms gives information about the depth of the scatterer. Were the Moon just a flat disk on the sky, for example, no photonics boom would occur.

"Photonic booms happen around us quite frequently -- but they are always too brief to notice," says Nemiroff. "Out in the cosmos they last long enough to notice -- but nobody has thought to look for them!"

The light flash from a photonic boom is quite different from well-known Cherenkov radiation, light emitted when a charged object breaks the speed of light inside transparent matter, he notes.

Michigan Technological University is a leading public research university developing new technologies and preparing students to create the future for a prosperous and sustainable world. Michigan Tech offers more than 130 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering; forest resources; computing; technology; business; economics; natural, physical and environmental sciences; arts; humanities; and social sciences.

Robert Nemiroff | EurekAlert!

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht When AI and optoelectronics meet: Researchers take control of light properties
20.11.2018 | Institut national de la recherche scientifique - INRS

nachricht How to melt gold at room temperature
20.11.2018 | Chalmers University of Technology

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Nonstop Tranport of Cargo in Nanomachines

Max Planck researchers revel the nano-structure of molecular trains and the reason for smooth transport in cellular antennas.

Moving around, sensing the extracellular environment, and signaling to other cells are important for a cell to function properly. Responsible for those tasks...

Im Focus: UNH scientists help provide first-ever views of elusive energy explosion

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.

Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...

Im Focus: A Chip with Blood Vessels

Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.

Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Optical Coherence Tomography: German-Japanese Research Alliance hosted Medical Imaging Conference

19.11.2018 | Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Nonstop Tranport of Cargo in Nanomachines

20.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Researchers find social cultures in chimpanzees

20.11.2018 | Life Sciences

When AI and optoelectronics meet: Researchers take control of light properties

20.11.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>