23/01/2017 12:37 GMT

Forget The Sonic Boom, Scientists Have Filmed Light Going Faster Than Itself

We're not sure our brains can handle this.

If you thought a sonic boom was impressive, then wait till you see what a team of scientists have achieved by playing around with light.

For the first time ever, a team from Washington University, have successfully filmed light waves creating their own version of the sonic boom, which occurs when an aeroplane flies faster than the speed of sound. 

Jinyang Liang and Lihong V Wang

In this case, the light would need to be travelling faster than the waves it is emitting to reveal the elusive photonic Mach cone.

Now, if you were paying attention in your Physics lessons, you might be thinking it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense that this would even be possible, after all we thought that nothing travelled faster than light in a vacuum?

Indeed at around 300,000 kilometres per second, that is some record to beat.

But turns out, we were wrong. You see with the right equipment this has just been made possible. 

Science Advances

Jinyang Liang and her colleagues used a fairly unique studio set-up, combining a super ultra-speed camera (we’re talking a trillion frames per second) with a purpose-built light-slowing device.

In order to slow the light down, the team built a channel with two plates of silicone rubber, and filled the gap in between with a dry-ice fog. They were then able to fire pulses of green laser light – each lasting only 7 picoseconds (trillionths of seconds) down the tunnel.



And given that the light passes more slowly through the walls of the tunnel than through the fog, the photonic Mach cone emerged from the fog.

The researchers have said that this discovery, is not only pretty cool, but actually has potential impacts for the biomedicine industry and new medical equipment.

Liang told Live Science: “Our camera is fast enough to watch neurons fire and image live traffic in the brain.”

Now we’re not easily impressed, but 2017 is shaping up to be pretty impressive.