Monday, June 23, 2008

Shortest Flash of Light Created


Scientists have created the shortest-ever flash of light, 80 attoseconds (one billionth of one billionth of a second) long. Up until now, the shortest light pulse is recorded at 130 attoseconds, set in 2007. These short flashes have huge implications; they might be able to let scientists view the movement of electrons around large atoms.

The flash was short enough to capture an image of a laser pulse previously too fast to be seen ( see photo on left). The method used to generate the flash is akin to a domino effect, initial pulses are fired into a cloud of neon gas, which in turn excite the neon atoms who release energy as super short flashes of light.

The flashes from the neon atoms were moved onto a second gas cloud so that the researchers could figure out exactly how short the light flashes were. Further analysis showed light flashing at 80 attoseconds. But scientists aren't done yet. The goal is to make light pulses as short as the time it takes for an electron to travel around a hydrogen atom, 24 attoseconds (considered to be the atomic unit of time).

Still not satisfied? The imaging of fundamental particles like protons, at zeptoseconds (trillionths of a billionth of a second) might even be possible someday.

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