Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) say they’ve found a way to levitate and propel objects using only light – though, for the time being, the work remains theoretical.
They hope the technique could be used for “trajectory control of ultra-light spacecraft and even laser-propelled light sails for space exploration,” according to a paper published in the journal Nature Photonics Monday.
That means no fuel needed – just a powerful laser fired at a spacecraft from back on Earth.
The Caltech scientists devised the so-called “photonic levitation and propulsion” system by designing a complex pattern that could be etched into an object’s surface.
The way the concentrated light beam reflected from the etching causes the object to “self-stabilize”, they say, as it attempts to stay inside the focused laser beam.