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Movie laser guns have nothing on the real thing

Steve Dent, @stevetdent
October 23, 2014
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Ray guns are high on the list of "physics gone wrong" movie tropes. Unlike the real thing, the blasts are much slower than light, visible in clear air and (depending on who's firing) highly inaccurate. However, laser physicists in Poland have just shown what a powerful laser really looks like. Though no camcorder can follow a light beam, the team used a high-speed camera timed with rapid pulses to simulate a beam traveling through the air. They also added water vapor jets midway to show the plasma ionization (we have no idea what the ghost-like people were doing, though). While the laser fired infrared light, the white beams are actually plasma filaments that formed alongside the pulse. The interaction between the pulse and plasma makes it possible to have a "self-focusing" laser that can be fired far into the atmosphere to detect pollution, for instance. Anyway, you don't need to justify your work to us, Polish scientists -- you had us at "laser videos."

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