Scientists, using the world's most powerful X-ray laser, have successfully created a molecular black hole consisting of heavy atoms that suck electrons from their neighbours.
Researchers from Kansas State University in the US successfully used short pulses of ultra-intense high-energy X-rays to produce a detailed picture of how X-ray radiation interacts with molecules.
This was the first time this kind of extreme light has been used to break up molecules, and it may help understand the damages from X-ray radiation when it is used to take an X-ray picture, researchers said.
The team shot iodomethane (CH3I) and iodobenzene (C6H5I) molecules with a powerful X-ray beam.
"As this powerful X-ray light hits a molecule, the heaviest atom, the iodine, absorbs a few hundred times more X-rays than all the other atoms," said Artem Rudenko, assistant professor at Kansas State University.
"Then, most of its electrons are stripped away, creating a large positive charge on the iodine," Rudenko said.
"The X-ray laser is the most powerful in the world with an intensity of 100 quadrillion kilowatts per square centimetre," Rudenko said.
The positive charge that was created steadily pulls electrons from the other atoms in the molecule, which fills the created vacancies like a short-lived black hole, researchers said.
Unlike the real black hole, the molecular version lets the electrons out again. They are stripped away in a few femtoseconds.
"The cycle repeats itself until the molecule explodes" said Daniel Rolles assistant professor at Kansas State University.
"In total, 54 of iodomethane's 62 electrons were ejected in this experiment, far more than we anticipated based on earlier studies using less intense X-rays. In addition, the larger molecule, iodobenzene, loses even more electrons," he said.
Ultra-intense X-rays give a new and efficient tool to image biological particles, such as proteins and viruses, with high resolution, researchers said.
"Based on our findings, we can predict what will happen in larger systems," Rolles said.
The study was published in the journal Nature.