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What a STAR WARS Blaster Bolt Actually Looks Like

If you really could see Han shoot first, it would look a bit like this.

Let’s get this out of the way: Though the laser gun is a staple of science fiction, the stuff coming out of in Star Wars’ blasters were neither lasers nor plasma. But since the only pulses we can reliably fire in our galaxy are lasers, researchers at the Laser Centre of the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the Polish Academy of Sciences and the Faculty of Physics (say it five times fast) have decided to visualize it.

But to see anything, the team had to use a bit of trickery — we don’t have cameras that reliably run at 1,000,000,000 FPS.

Laser shot 1 GIF

Laser pulses are unimaginably quick. Coming and going in a millionth of a billionth of a second, they simply move too fast to be accurately recorded by any camera, especially the human eye (that’s why real space battles would look so different). So to capture the pulses from the laser the team constructed, they synced a camera with them — each firing about ten times per second. The result is what looks like one single pulse moving down the hallway, but in reality each frame of the movie is a different pulse, slightly further along than the last.

You can watch the full demonstration (complete with uber-creepy after images of the researchers walking around the beam) below:

The laser bolts move through the air as you might expect, but why do they suddenly get brighter?

Well, the laser the team constructed is crazy-powerful — like 10 trillion watts powerful. The average lightning strike puts out maybe one-tenth of that. Pulses this strong immediately ionize the air around them like lightning does too. That is, the high-energy particles in the laser jiggle the electrons of the gas in the air, releasing heat and light.

102314_LaserShot_PlasmaA light pulse fired from the 10 TW laser, dispersing into water vapor. The blue glow is laser light. The source of the other colors is mainly plasma arising from ionized matter, located in the air in the path of the laser pulse.

Finding out what a Star Wars-style blaster bolt would really look like — even the technique of capturing a laser pulse on camera — isn’t the innovation here. According to the team, the laser they constructed for this demonstration was powerful enough to create white light over the long distances it was traveling. The light was white because the high-powered pulses were turning enough gas into plasma to generate many wavelengths of light, which all combine as white light. Having all these wavelengths to work with will give researchers the ability to detect different properties of our atmosphere at some distance, making remote measuring of atmospheric pollutants easier, for example.

Oh, and just for fun I sped up the video so it looks like lasers firing down the Death Star trenches, because science:

Laser shot 2 GIF

IMAGES: IPC PAS, Grzegorz Krzyżewski

HT: EurekAlert!

Featured Image: 20th Century Fox

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  1. Bill Murray says:

    Ghost at 0:56 seconds.

  2. Mike says:

    Blaster bolts in the Star Wars universe aren’t laser beams.  Blasters (as well as the Wookie Bowcaster) use spun, superheated Tibana gas as their ammunition, and therefore while this experiment is interesting, it’s not doing what it is claiming.

  3. David amos says:

    Storm chaser Tim Samaras modified a camera for capturing lightning that could shoot up to 1 million fps:

  4. sean says:

    What would you use that for?

  5. Yo Momma says:

    reality a movie and movies reality….. My bad…. and they don’t even allow for edits to correct typo’s…. SCIENCE!

  6. Yo Momma says:

    I am pretty sure I saw Star Wars…. They fired blasters in the movies…. If you want to know what an actual Bolt fired from a blaster in Star Wars sounds and looks like…. WATCH STAR WARS….. If you want to see what some assholes think Star Wars technology would be in reality….. This is for you…. But what is reality and what is a movie are two different things and people need to quit trying to make reality and movie and movies reality…..

  7. Josh Call says:

    Also, the pewpew noise of the laser firing is pure sci-fi. It would sound a lot less like a Star Wars blaster or Star Trek phaser, and a lot more like a super loud crack of thunder as the air around the beam superheats.
    A crack of thunder.
    Coming from the gun.In your hand.Like Zeus. 
    You’re Zeus.