Trillion-FPS virtual camera takes video faster than light itself

How high-speed can a high-speed camera get? Try fast enough to watch a pulse of light itself move through a soda bottle.

MIT's virtual camera uses a pulsed titanium sapphire laser to fire flashes of light at a scene. They've also got a piece of equipment called a streak tube, which is a very fast light sensor with one single line of resolution. By firing the laser over and over and using a mirror system to change the view of the sensor, researchers were gradually able to build up a movie showing how light moves across objects, where each millimeter-long pulse of light travels barely half a millimeter in each frame. At full speed, light travels a foot every billionth of a second, so yeah, this is a pretty slow visualization. Check it:

So now that we've gone and explained how this system works, time for the caveat: you're not really watching one single pulse of light move in slow-mo. Rather, you're watching successive images of many different pulses of light played back-to-back, like using a strobe light to "fake" slow motion (or even make time appear to go backwards). This means that we won't be seeing any trillion-fps vids of moving objects. Also, it's not quite correct that the camera is actually trillion-FPS: it's a virtual camera, and it only achieves such frame rates by taking many successive images of different laser pulses from slightly different angles and using software to create the final movie.

Of course, I'm not trying to minimize the coolness of this setup, because it's pretty wild. Below, watch another movie of a pulse of light firing through a soda bottle.

MIT, via io9

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