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University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Researchers just discovered that some very strange things happen to electrons when they are hit with a laser with the power of a billion suns. The electrons changed their own path when hit by the laser, and then altered the way in which photons of light scattered once they bounced off.

Why it matters: This second effect (the scattering of photons of light, which is the basis for how we "see" things) could fundamentally alter our understanding of vision and the way in which light and matter interact, the researchers said in Nature Photonics. The use of intense light could also allow researchers to detect cancerous tumors or micro-fractures that x-rays might miss.

What they did: While physicists have theorized what might happen when intensely bright light interacts with electrons, this is the first time that a laser was powerful enough to trigger reactions that had only been previously theoretical. The laser used in this experiment is the brightest light ever produced on Earth.

Researchers observed that both electrons and photons behave much, much differently when they're part of an intensely bright light. Usually, for instance, one photon of light will bounce off one electron at a time. Here, a thousand photons bounced off just one electron. At ordinary levels of light, photons also bounce off electrons in the same direction and with the same energy. Not the case here. Beyond a critical threshold, the intense laser's brightness changed the angle, shape and wavelength of the photons as the light scattered – effectively changing the nature of what is visible under such intensity.

"When we have this unimaginably bright light, it turns out that the scattering — this fundamental thing that makes everything visible - fundamentally changes in nature," said University of Nebraska physicist Donald Umstadter.

Go deeper

Up to 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Up to 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Axios AM Deep Dive: America’s murder surge

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images

Homicides rose at the fastest rate in at least six decades last year. This Axios AM Deep Dive, led by Future correspondent Bryan Walsh, looks at the state of gun crime.