The European X-ray Free Electron Laser (XFEL) will begin operating in September, and it will shoot 27,000 laser pulses per second, 200 times more per second than the next highest-performing gun in California. Scientists don’t often use laser guns to shoot astronauts, and only sometimes use them to direct PowerPoints. Instead, think of the European XFEL as an incredibly high-speed and detailed movie camera.
The 1.5 billion-euro laser replaces its predecessor, FLASH, in Germany. According to the experiment’s website, the system contains 768 cavities on a one-mile long pipe with alternating electromagnetic fields, sending the electrons back and forth in a wobble. Changing an electron’s direction causes it to shoot light forward, but then that light (which moves a little bit faster than the high-energy electrons), also influences how the electron moves and continues to radiate, in turn creating the x-ray pulses. The experiment dumps the electrons and keeps the x-rays.
There are other x-ray lasers in use, and they’re in high demand by scientists, but they don’t reach nearly the performance of the newest one; one in California pulses 120 times per second, while another in Japan runs at 60 pulses per second, according to a press release on Phys.org. But other advanced laser guns came online recently or will open soon, reports Nature, including one in Switzerland and another in South Korea.