# Frikkin’ LASERs

Another wonderful development in the world of LIDAR – LIght Detection And Ranging – has lead to the possibility of mapping the surface and geophysical properties of other planets with with “differences [in height] down to one centimeter“. Pixel resolution has also greatly increased, “from kilometers square to a few feet by a few feet.

LIDAR works on a similar principle to radar, but through the use of lasers rather than radio waves. The laser is shot at an object, and the time delay between the pulse and the reflection is measured in order to accurately gauge the distance. The advantages of LIDAR over radar are twofold: LIDAR can be used to measure smaller objects, and it works on a greater variety of materials.

Of course project leader Professor Donald Figer is keen to promote his system’s anti-terrorism credentials:

“Imagine,” he says, “that you have this 3-D, 180-degree fish-eye system . . . in every city scanning continuously for biohazards.”

I know it’s meant to be scanning for biohazards, but presumably the system could also be used to create real-time, centimetre-resolution maps of cities, including the relative positions of every individual. Combine this with currently existing surveillance systems and we could have ourselves a nice panopticon by the middle of the century.

[original story from Technology Review][image by Mike Licht]

# And the Oscar for "Best Short Film of a Sub-Atomic Particle" goes to…

The movie, made at Lund University, Sweden, shows how an electron rides on a light wave after just having been pulled away from an atom. This is the first time an electron has ever been filmed. (Via EurekAlert.)

How do you film something that circles the nucleus of an atom once every 150 attoseconds? And how long is an attosecond, anyway?

To answer the second question first, an attosecond is 10 to the -18 of a second, or, as Johan Mauritsson, an assistant professor in atomic physics at the University, puts it, “an attosecond is related to a second as a second is related to the age of the universe.”

By using attosecond pulses created from intense laser light using recently developed technology, the researchers were able to guide the motion of an electron and capture a collision between it and an atom on film.

As you might guess, the encounter has been slowed down enormously so our slow-poke eyes and brains can register it.

OK, so it probably won’t win an Oscar at this Sunday’s Academy Awards, but it’s still pretty darn cool.

You can read the original scientific paper from Physical Review Letters here, and additional discussion of the achievement here.

(Image: Lund University.)

[tags]physics, particles, lasers, atoms[/tags]

# More tech for the military

Thanks to the huge budgets involved, the military forces of the world tend to get a chance to play with all the best new technology before anyone else. The US Army Flight School is adopting a new augmented reality helmet for training purposes, which enables the wearer to see tactical information and thermal imagery, and to focus on distant objects. A more long-term Pentagon plan is to adopt militarily useful iterations of directed energy technology – to build laser blasters, in other words. Another technology that soldiers are more likely to get before the rest of us, albeit due to the most unpleasant of circumstances, are cybernetic limbs like the iHand prosthesis, a myo-electric replacement hand that can lift delicate objects without crushing them.