Shine a laser pointer at a cat, and the cat may see and try to catch the light, but it certainly won’t feel it.
What if that light were not a milliwatt laser, but one hundred trillion times stronger — and the cat were essentially weightless, floating in space?
“Normally, optical forces are zero — you don’t feel light pushing on you. But with a very strong laser on a very light object, the forces start to be measurable and significant, and we are interested in studying those forces,” says Victor Brar, assistant professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “A new idea called laser sailing is one area where these optical forces become relevant.”
Brar, with graduate student Joel Siegel and colleagues, conducted a set of simulations in which they show that a self-stabilizing laser sail is theoretically achievable, making it that much more feasible that a spacecraft will make it to neighboring star systems in our lifetime.