Light stopped for an amazing minute inside a crystal, scientists have announced. The major new record is an important milestone in understanding and controlling light, they say.
As far as science currently knows, light is the fasted “thing” in the universe. Whether it is a wave or a particle is still up for debate, but in a vacuum it can get hauling, reaching a speedy 300 million meters a second (over 980 million feet/second)!
With that in mind, being able to actually slow light down for a whole 60 seconds is a rather incredible feat.
The first attempt to change light’s speed was in 1999. They managed to set a big record, slowing it to only 17 meters a second, according to Gizmodo. In 2001, scientists finally got light to pause for less than a second. Earlier this year light was stopped for 16 seconds.
Recently though, a research team from the University of Darmstadst managed to set a big new record. But it was no easy accomplishment getting light stopped for a full minute.
Using an opaque crystal, scientists shot it full of lasers. These beams disrupted the quantum states of the crystal’s atoms. This created two states within the crystal. One of these states was now transparent to a certain frequency of light.
Then, a laser of that frequency was shot into the crystal. Right behind it, scientists shot another laser beam which made the crystal opaque again. With light unable to go through it, temporarily, the second laser beam was basically trapped. Magnetic fields were also used to increase the crystal’s storage time.
In the full minute light was stopped in the crystal, light could have bounced between the us and the moon 20 times, says NewScientist.
One of the research team members, George Heinze, believes it is possible to store light for even longer in different types of crystals.
This new development has some profound implications for information storage. Quantum communications could become possible to secure over long distances. Quantum repeaters, which require dozens of seconds of light stopped to store information, may be right around the corner.
The research team, as part of their experiment, shot a laser encoded with simple information. Even after the light was stopped, the information could be retrieved — hinting at some of the incredible uses this discovery could have.
[Image via ShutterStock]