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Fastest Waves Ever Photographed 167

starfoot writes, "Pictures of the fastest waves ever photographed, traveling at 99.997% of the speed of light, were presented today at the APS Division of Plasma Physics meeting in Philadelphia. The waves were formed in the wake of an intense laser pulse passing through a plasma of electrons and ionized atoms. The waves create enormous electric fields (over 100 billion electron volts/meter), which can be used to rapidly accelerate charged particles to high energies in the span of a few meters. The pictures will help scientists better understand wakefield interactions — an important factor in their quest to replace machines that accelerate particles over the course of miles with compact, tabletop versions. High energy particle accelerators are vital for cutting edge physics and many types of medical therapy, and miniaturizing them would be a boon for both basic physics research and medicine."

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