Tag Archives: matter

The Race Is On: Scientists Will Soon Convert Light Into Matter Via Einstein’s Famous Equation

Even if you couldn’t tell me the first thing about physics, you’re probably familiar with the equation E=mc2, Einstein’s famous theory of relativity that hypothesized (based off extensive observations) that light could be converted into matter and vice verse.

Then, in the 1930s, Gregory Breit and John A. Wheeler expanded on Einstein’s theory, arguing that it should be theoretically possible to accomplish this transformation using just two photons.

However, until very recently, it was thought that actually turning light into matter with just two photons was virtually impossible, since it would require colliding the two infinitesimally small light particles (which technically have no mass or volume) with one another, an extremely difficult task.

The breakthrough came in a scholarly article published in the journal Nature Photonics on May 18th which described a groundbreaking new “photon-collider”. The collider works by heating up a golden vacuum tube known as a hohlraum (a hohlraum is basically just a vacuum in which the radiative energy in the walls and the interior of the vacuum are at equilibrium).

As the hohlraum is heated, it begins emitting photons. Once there’s a significant “cloud” of photons in the hohlraum, a high energy laser is shot at another piece of gold. This laser heats up the gold target until it starts shooting gamma rays (photons) at extremely high speeds into the hohlraum.

Diagram of the photon-photon collider. Click to enlarge

If one of these high-energy photons collides with one of the photons in the hohlraum, the two annihilate one another, creating an electron and a positron, the electron’s antimatter equivalent which carries a positive charge (think of it as an anti-electron). Conversely, when an electron and a positron collide at high speeds, they annihilate to form pure energy, in the form of two photons.

Now that the process of colliding photons has been proven to be experimentally possible in the lab, physicists across the globe will be scrambling to be the first to successfully convert light into matter.

Somewhere, Einstein is smiling.

Read more from the L.A. Times here.

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What It Looks Like When Two Neutron Stars Rip Each Other Apart to Form a Black Hole (Video)

A neutron star is what’s left behind when a massive star (typically 8-30 times the size of our Sun) explodes into a supernova. These supergiant stars get so large that they are no longer able to remain stable under their own intense gravity, collapsing in on themselves.

The gravity is so massive that it exceeds the strength of the atomic forces within particles, causing them to eject protons and electrons. The ball of neutrons they leave behind is so dense that a teaspoonful of the material would weigh as much as Mount Everest!

A neutron star (the tiny white dot in the middle) surrounded by the remnants of the supernova explosion that created it. Click to enlarge (Photo: NASA/Andrew Fruchter)

Neutrons stars have a “mass threshold”- if they take on too much mass, even the neutrons themselves will collapse. When two of these extremely dense neutron stars collide, the extra mass they add to one another causes their massive gravitational forces to tear each other apart.

They go into a blindingly-fast death spin, ejecting massive amount of material while merging into a doughnut like structure with a black hole at its center. The entire process takes just 20 milliseconds (that is 1/50th of a second, if you’re wondering).

Check out a simulation of the amazing phenomenon courtesy of NASA: