#4. Laser Stars Firing at Us
We've been using lasers to create bits of stars, and in a reversal so powerful every judo judan in the world just flipped through a window, stars are creating lasers right back. The Death Star was a misnomer because it was only the size of a small moon. Laser stars are a misnomer in the opposite direction: They can be the size of an entire solar system.
Jon Morse (University of Colorado), and NASA
Eta Carinae, which survived a supernova-level explosion, is now firing UV lasers, and may actually be Galactus.
Lasers work by "pumping" a gain medium so that the atoms are in a higher energy level, ready to fall back to their resting state and emit light. When a photon of the right frequency passes, it triggers this fall, releasing a second photon, then four, then eight, 16, 32 ... an exponential avalanche of light in the exact same direction and phase. A laser. We use lamps to pump a rod or container of gas. Circumstellar lasers use an entire star to pump a stellar system of gas. And because the star is hosing out a whole range of frequencies, different regions of the cloud fire out intense ultraviolet lasers, infrared lasers, visible lasers, even microwave lasers (MASERS).
For example, star MWC 349 has rings of laser and MASERs that astrophysically blow the shit out of Jupiter's precious little rings of ice and dirt. "Rings of star laser" aren't just events; they're how Norse gods propose to each other. It's either that or an alternate name for that Tron sport where they kill each other with Frisbees.
Walt Disney Pictures
Literally Ultimate Frisbee.
#3. Laser Planets
OK, so there are laser stars larger than our planet's orbit. But we're not scared. We live in a universe with matter overflow errors (called "black holes") ripping up the entire fabric of existence. We're hardcore, we can take it, and most importantly we know they're all incredibly far away. But what if we told you there were laser planets? And that the signal is coming from inside the solar system?
NASA, Wikimedia Commons, the glorious Voyager 1
Jupiter radio lasers might sound like a trance-dub Internet radio station, but it's a real thing. (Though its random whistling and crackling could be either one.) The following sentence contains more kickass per word than a mute Tony Jaa: The volcanic moon of Io hurls electrically conducting gas-lava into Jupiter's magnetosphere, driving magnetohydrodynamic waves that carry 40 trillion watts into polar radio storms, pumping up the atmosphere so hard they become natural radio lasers. The air itself is so excited that when it hears a radio signal it quantum mechanically rocks out in perfect coherence. Oh, and humanity only uses about 15 trillion watts. Total.
NASA, Wikimedia Commons, the glorious Voyager 1
We would like to apologize for what we said about its rings in the previous section.
We can't confirm that Radio Laser Jupiter will also act as the Radio Free Europe of our future solar battle against interplanetary robots, but only because writing it down on a computer would tell them. Technically, the radio laser should be called a RASER, but we figure scientists wanted to avoid the inevitable crappy jokes. So that was a close shave.
#2. Vaporize Mars
This is where we reverse the reversal and stomp on planets with lasers, right? Right! The Mars Science Laboratory lander Curiosity is almost a ton of nuclear-powered laser-wielding robot. Part of its mission is to help determine if Mars has ever supported life, and if it has, to let them know who's boss around here.
Hint: It's the group sending nuclear-powered laser robots and hoping Martians don't have a John Connor.
The most kickass instrument on the rover is the ChemCam, a Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) instrument. Yes, that is Scientifickese for "blow things up to see what they're made of." The mast-mounted laser can vaporize rocks, analyzing the explosion to see what it was made of before we noticed it. When Wordsworth said "We murder to dissect," he was talking about wimpy poetry. We're doing it with exogeology.
#1. Mind Control
You'd think it would be easy to make people do what you say when you're aiming a laser at their brains, which is why they're going to escape and blow up your base. Again. Honestly, Stormtroopers, you're really bad at lasering.
LucasArts, 20th Century Fox
Really, really bad.
The key to real mind control is optogenetics: genetically engineering neurons to contain light-activated proteins, so you can literally turn on thoughts with a light switch. One team of researchers has worked out how to remote control living organisms. They built a computer-controlled laser system to target individual neurons in freely moving worms and make them turn, stop, and even lay eggs on command. It seems the Terminators are starting smaller but much more accurately than you ever thought possible. Possibly because they've been lasering that thought out of your head every time you had it.
Bonus: Now you know how he got elected.
Another group has fired bad memories directly into flies, and not just the bad memory of having a laser fired directly into your living brain. Your brain doesn't actually notice this without the optogenetic upgrade. In fact, firing lasers into a brain would traditionally do the opposite of teaching you things. By triggering the "associative learning cluster" when the fly was exposed to a new smell, they made it believe that smell was evil and should be avoided, an unshakable conviction delivered in a burst of light from on high.
Mr.checker, Wikimedia Commons
The St. Paul of Drosophila.
Of course we're working on doing this to ourselves. Another group has proven that you can show primates the light by directly triggering circuits in macaque monkey minds. This could revolutionize society. The brain is the most wonderful machine in existence, but still a complicated device well known for going wrong. When we discover an error, we're limited to carpet-bombing the entire brain with chemicals or collaterally damaging huge sections with electroshock and unintended side effects. Lasers can target and trigger brain cells with unprecedented precision. Incredible precision is lasers' entire job. Such direct brain links, activating specific brain circuits on demand, could revolutionize treatment of neurological and psychological disorders, with the minor fringe benefit of enabling direct man-machine connections. Every single thought and sensation in your head is a neuron firing. With precise neurolaser links, never mind controlling computers with your thoughts; you could replace your entire reality with a custom Matrix.
Our version has slightly less Keanu Reeves. And still makes more sense.
Luke explains Why Kickstarter Won't Affect Mainstream Gaming (and Why That's OK). He also tumbles and has a website.
For more spectacular science, behold 5 Mind-Blowing Things Found in Our Own Solar System and The 7 Most Mind-Blowing Places Science Has Discovered Life. Science just loves going down on your intellect.