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Light bursts out of a flying mirror

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Posted April 25, 2013
A laser pulse (red, bottom), liberates electrons (green) from the carbon atoms of a nanometer-thin foil and accelerates them to close to the speed of light. An infrared light pulse impinges on the electron layer from the opposite direction and reflects off the electron mirror as a light burst in the extreme ultraviolet with a duration of only a few hundred attoseconds. Credit: Thorsten Naeser

A laser pulse (red, bottom), liberates electrons (green) from the carbon atoms of a nanometer-thin foil and accelerates them to close to the speed of light. An infrared light pulse impinges on the electron layer from the opposite direction and reflects off the electron mirror as a light burst in the extreme ultraviolet with a duration of only a few hundred attoseconds. Credit: Thorsten Naeser

An international team of researchers succeeds in generating flashes of extreme ultraviolet radiation via the reflection from a mirror that moves close to the speed of light.

A dense sheet of electrons accelerated to close to the speed of light can act as a tuneable mirror that can generate bursts of laser-like radiation in the short wavelength range via reflection. A team of physicists from the Max-Planck-Institute of Quantum Optics (MPQ) in Garching, the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) München, the Queens University Belfast (QUB) and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) near Oxford created such a mirror in a recent experiment. The scientists used an intense laser pulse to accelerate a dense sheet of electrons from a nanometre-thin foil to close to the speed of light and reflected a counter-propagating laser pulse from this relativistic mirror. With this experiment, the physicists managed to carry out a Gedankenexperiment (thought experiment) formulated in 1905 by Albert Einstein stating that the reflection from a mirror moving close to the speed of light could in principle result in bright light pulses in the short wavelength range. The researchers report on their results in Nature Communications, 23. April, 2013.

In everyday life, reflections of light are usually observed from surfaces that are at rest such as the reflection from a piece of glass or a smooth surface of water. But, what happens if one creates a mirror moving incredibly fast, close to the speed of light? This question was answered more than a century ago by Albert Einstein in 1905 in histheory of special relativity. Now, an international team of researchers investigated that question in an experiment.

Read more at: Phys.org

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