Cherenkov Radiation: When things go faster than light
Texto de terceiro.
|Reator Nuclear IPEN do tipo MTR.|
Light always slows down when it passes through matter, and when objects overtake it we get Cherenkov radiation. It is a visual sonic boom, and it works in the same way. Sonic booms are the result of reaching the speed of sound; sound ahead of the object can’t dissipate or get away, so pressure builds. When the speed is exceeded the pressure is released as a terribly loud shock wave that bludgeons the ears of anything within a few kilometres. Cherenkov radiation is similar, but quieter. To observe it, you will need a nuclear reactor core and a lot of water.
In certain nuclear reactor cores water is used as a coolant. Due to the fact that water is, to be simple, made of stuff, it slows the speed of light that passes through it to a rather zippy 224,910 km/s. This is quick, but less than the ultimate limit, so it can be beaten.
The reactor core releases charged electrons which disrupt the electromagnetic field in the water, a field that includes light. They race at various speeds, but many travel faster than light. The electromagnetic charge in front, which is limited by the speed of light in the water, cannot escape. The waves propagate in front and then the science happens. A photonic shock wave. Light is released.
If we managed this feat with an electrically charged jet fighter the result would be even more blindingly brilliant than a sonic boom, unfortunately it is woefully impractical. Similarly if I were to accelerate a bowl of petunias beyond the speed of sound, you would be able to hear it, but it would be much less impressive. So, the result of Cherenkov radiation is nothing but a pleasing, if rather unsettling blue glow from the water.
The discovery of Cherenkov Radiation won Pavel Alekseyevich Cherenkov the Nobel Prize in 1958, it shows that light slows down when it interacts. There are many speeds of light, but in space, at 300,000km/s light is unbeatable, that we know. Unless of course we don’t understand the Universe at all. However the chances of that are rather slim.