Scientists have developed the mother of all laser beams - one that has focussed power equal to all the sunlight heading earth's way.
Researchers at the University of Michigan recently created the record-setting beam, which measures 20 billion trillion watts per square centimetre, Sciencedaily reported.
"I don't know of another place in the universe that would have this intensity of light. We believe this is a record," said Karl Krushelnick, who was part of the team that created the laser.
The laser contains 300 terawatts of power, or 300 times the capacity of the entire US electricity grid, and its power is concentrated in a 1.3-micron speck - about one-100th the diameter of a human hair.
Of course, a beam like this cannot be sustained for long. This one lasted just 30 femtoseconds. A femtosecond is a millionth of a billionth of a second, the researchers said in a paper published in the online edition of the journal Optics Express.
Such intense beams could help scientists develop better proton and electron beams for radiation treatment of cancer, among other applications.
The laser can produce this intense beam once every 10 seconds, whereas other powerful lasers can take an hour to recharge.
The team managed to get such high power by putting a moderate amount of energy into a very, very short time period. In addition to medical uses, intense laser beams like these could help researchers explore new frontiers in science.
At even more extreme intensities, laser beams could potentially "boil the vacuum", which scientists theorise would generate matter by merely focussing light into empty space.
Some scientists also see applications in inertial confinement fusion research, coaxing low-mass atoms to join together into heavier ones and release energy in the process.