Tractor Beam Lasers? Possible, Say Scientists

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Lasers are cool. They’re useful during presentations, can fix your eyesight, and are capable of propelling spacecraft along their solar sails. Sometimes, they even burn holes in stuff.

(More on TIME.com: 10 Technologies We Want to Steal from Harry Potter)

A team of researchers from Hong Kong and China may have discovered another use for lasers straight out of an H.G. Wells novel: A scientifically plausible tractor beam.

The researchers posited that a specific type of Bessel beam (a special kind of laser that that doesn’t diffract at the center; read more about it here) is capable of creating a pull-like effect on a given particle, forcing it over small distances back towards its source.

In an interview with the BBC News, Professor Ortwin Hess at Imperial College London likened the effect of Bessel beams to the residual force generated by a moving boat:

“It’s a bit like a boat moving through water,” Professor Hess told BBC News. “In the eddies you generate as part of that forward movement, there are areas that literally seem to be pulling back.”

The lasers would have to hit a given object at a certain angle, and, in theory, are only capable of reeling things in over incredibly tiny distances.

In the meantime, here’s a link to the actual study, available in PDF form.  It’s physics intensive, but fascinating nonetheless; at least if you’re the type who fantasizes about never having to get up off the couch again.

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