2/15/2008

Laser light creates black holes in the lab

Filed under: — Aviran Mordo

IMAGINE being able to peek inside a black hole and even perform experiments there. It may not be as far-fetched as it sounds, thanks to a team which claims to have simulated a black hole’s event horizon in the lab.

Ulf Leonhardt at the University of St Andrews, UK, and his colleagues accomplished the feat by firing lasers down an optical fibre, exploiting the fact that different wavelengths of light move at different speeds within an optical fibre.

They first shot a relatively slowmoving laser pulse through the fibre, and then sent a faster “probe wave” chasing after it. The first pulse distorts the optical properties of the fibre simply by travelling through it. This distortion forces the speedy probe wave to slow down dramatically when it catches up with the slower pulse and tries to move through it. In fact, the probe wave becomes trapped and can never overtake the pulse’s leading edge, which effectively becomes a black hole event horizon, beyond which light cannot escape.

This “laser black hole” could allow physicists to examine what happens to light on both sides of a event horizon – “a feat that is utterly impossible in astrophysics”, the authors note in their paper.

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