Archive for February 20th, 2009

An X-ray 1 billion times brighter than the sun

Friday, February 20th, 2009

It’s hard to wrap my mind around that figure, but it’s apparently not an exaggeration. The Diamond Light Source in Oxfordshire, England, will debut an X-ray machine this fall that utilizes a beam of synchroton light, an intense form of radiation that will allow antiquities to be scanned without harm at a heretofore unthinkable level of detail.

This will allow researchers to see through solid objects and build images on a micron scale, revealing details less than the width of a human hair. [...]

British Museum scientists will be among the first to use the beamline known as the Joint Engineering, Environmental and Processing or Jeep.

They will use the beam on a group of mysterious half life-sized Egyptian bronze statues to discover how they were created.

The bronzes are joined somehow — various parts have been put together — but the joints are so dense archaeologists have never been able to pinpoint how it was done. Once JEEP is up and running, the synchroton light will answer that question, as well as a host more questions about its manufacture and restoration history.

How it works reads like something Doc Brown would say:

To create the super-bright light beam, electrons are fired into a straight accelerator where they reach a speed close to that of light. The electrons then pass into a booster ring where they gain up to 3 giga electron volts in energy before being pushed into a storage ring.

Here the electrons pass through specially designed magnets that bend the beams, releasing synchroton light, which filters down the beamline.

The whole process works in a fraction of the time taken by existing methods such as CT scans and standard X-rays.

That means the fascinating and detailed CT scan of a mummy I just posted about a few days ago will look like a crayon stick figure drawing in comparison, and it’ll only take a minute to produce details at a micron level.

I cannot wait to see what those statues reveal.

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