10 Impossible Things Physicists Just Made Possible

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8. Molecular Black Hole

A team of physicists recently created something that behaved like a black hole.[3] They deployed the most powerful X-ray laser in existence, the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), to zap iodomethane and iodobenzene molecules. Researchers expected the beam to scoop most of the electrons from the molecule’s iodine atom, leaving a vacuum. In experiments with weaker lasers, this emptiness then hoovered up electrons from the outermost part of the atom. When LCLS struck, the expected happened—followed by something surprising. Instead of stopping with itself, the iodine atom began eating electrons from neighboring hydrogen and carbon atoms. It was like a tiny black hole inside a molecule.

Subsequent blasts knocked out the stolen electrons, but the void sucked in some more. The cycle was repeated until the entire molecule exploded. The iodine atom was the only atom that behaved like this. Bigger than the rest, it absorbed an enormous amount of X-ray energy, losing its original electrons. The loss left the atom with a strong enough positive charge to strip the electrons from smaller atoms.

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