China is building a laser 10 trillion times more intense than sunlight

Researchers in China are currently building a laser that can “rip apart empty space,” which sounds as dangerous as it is powerful. Chinese physicists have been enamoured with laser technology, including work on laser-based weapons and, recently, a plan to clean up space junk by blasting the debris with lasers. The new laser technology that is currently being developed, however, will likely change the landscape of physics once it is completed. In the Shanghai Superintense Ultrafast Laser Facility, researchers led by physicist Ruxin Li are breaking records by creating the world’s most powerful light pulses.
At the heart of the facility is a single cylinder of titanium-doped sapphire that is just about as wide as a Frisbee. After the physicists kindle light in the crystal and push it through a system of mirror and lenses, the laser achieves immense power. In 2016, SULF achieved a laser of 5.3 petawatts, though the pulse only lasts for less than a trillionth of a second. The researchers are now planning to upgrade the SULF and achieve a laser of 10 petawatts, which is equivalent to 1,000 times the power generated by all the electric grids in the world combined. However, the group’s ambitions go beyond that. The next phase in the work of Li and her colleagues is the Station of Extreme Light, a 100-petawatt laser targeted to be operational by 2023 that is the one that will “rip apart empty space.”