Soldiers could one day conduct covert operations in complete secrecy, now that Pentagon-backed physicists have figured out how to mask entire events by distorting light.
A team at Cornell University, with support from Darpa, the Pentagon’s out-there research arm, managed to hide an event for 40 picoseconds (those are trillionths of seconds, if you’re counting). They’ve published their groundbreaking research in this week’s edition of the journal Nature.
This is the first time that scientists have succeeded in masking an event, though research teams have in recent years made remarkable strides in cloaking objects. Researchers at the University of Texas, Dallas, last year harnessed the mirage effect to make objects vanish. And in 2010, physicists at the University of St. Andrews made leaps towards using metamaterials to trick human eyes into not seeing what was right in front of them.
Masking an object entails bending light around that object. If the light doesn’t actually hit an object, then that object won’t be visible to the human eye.
Where events are concerned, concealment relies on changing the speed of light. Light that’s emitted from actions, as they happen, is what allows us to see those actions happen. Usually, that light comes in a constant flow. What Cornell researchers did, in simple terms, is tweak that ongoing flow of light — just for a mere iota of time — so that an event could transpire without being observable.