Could we make a Star Wars-like Lightsaber in real life?

Lightsabers certainly look neat – and just think how much time you’d save if you could slice your bread and toast it at the same time – but in reality you just can’t get light to behave that way.

Once you have let a beam of light go – firing it out of the hilt of a Lightsaber, for instance – it will keep on travelling in a straight line for ever unless something gets in its way, so you would need something to trap light within it.

Imitation Lightsabers work in exactly this way, bouncing light around inside a semi-transparent tube-shaped ‘blade’. This also lets you play at fighting with them – in reality two beams of light would just pass straight through each other, rather than clashing.

The closest thing we could get to a real-life Lightsaber would actually be a beam of plasma – glowing, superhot electrically charged gas trapped in a powerful magnetic field. This is the same stuff that the Sun is largely made of, but producing it on Earth requires huge amounts of energy – a lot more than you could ever store in a tiny Lightsaber handle.

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