Thursday night I got in the mail my first new toy in a while, a laser pointer of my very own! Up at the Vis there are a few laser pointers available for volunteers to use, but this way I can have one for giving my own personal star tours whenever I feel like it. If you've ever tried to point out one of the fainter or smaller constellations, or, really, pretty much any constellation, planet, satellite, etc, you know how frustrating it is trying to point it out with nothing but your finger and your voice. ("Ok, starting from the crest of that hill, look up about one fist's width for a just-barely-brighter-than-its-companions star, then look where I'm pointing towards the left for another three...see how they form a quadrilateral? Well, then you look...") Trying to point out stars with your finger after having used a laser pointer feels like going back to plowing your fields with a one-horse plow after using modern farming equipment. Frustrating.
Well, no more. I can now happily move into the modern era of laser-guided star tours. Of course, a laser has more uses than just pointing out stars. Mine puts out brilliant green light at a wavelength of 532 nanometers, which is very close to the color at which the human eye is most sensitive, allowing me to use it as an emergency flashlight. The British term 'torch' actually seems more appropriate, since it is bright enough that you need merely point it at the ceiling and turn it on in order to fill the room with enough reflected light to navigate easily. The importance of carrying an emergency flashlight was driven forcibly home this evening, as just before I started writing this post we had a short blackout. And it was black, with clouds covering up any possible moon- or starlight.
The lights came on again about 15 minutes later, but it reminded me of another thing you can with lasers and time-lapse photography:
Creating this picture took not a few attempts, as it requires great hand-eye coordination and a very good short-term photographic memory to be able to get your dots anywhere close to your i's, not to mention keeping the rest of your letters from bunching up and overlapping. It's akin to writing with extremely fast-acting invisible ink, since you can't see what you've written once you've written it.
From this picture you can see two things: 1) just how bright this laser is at short range; and 2) I really need to work on my laser calligraphy. (callaserigraphy?)
And lastly, I feel obligated to point out that lasers are most certainly not toys, and should never be treated irresponsibly or recklessly. I have, and will continue to take every precaution when using mine, even for lighthearted or fun applications. I'd hate to hear about someone who damaged their eyesight by trying to copy something I did without adequate precautions. Basically, don't try this at home unless you know what you're doing, and remember the similarity between bullets and lasers: they both do a lot of damage if they get in your eyes. So try to avoid that.