A Star in a Jar

I’m trying to free your mind Neo. But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through.”-Morpheus from ‘The Matrix’

Sonoluminescence creating light from sound by bubble cavitation

                                                                A Star in a Jar

We live in a world full of awe and wonder. A world that we are still extremely new to. It’s estimated that the first modern humans came into existence a mere 200,000 years ago. Sure, that may seem like a hell lot of time; but compared to the time on the Earth’s geological clock, all of our existence as a species would barely be a few seconds.

If you really want to put things into perspective, just hold  your arm out in front of you. Now imagine that your shoulder was the Big Bang. Somewhere around the start of your fingernails would be when dinosaurs emerged and right near the end tip of your fingernails would be when humans showed up.

Now if you were to take a nail file and shave off the slightest bit of your nail, that  would be all of human existence.
All of the Ancient civilizations, right up to the Dark ages, your nation’s formation/independence  and even yesterday. All just mere nail shavings in the grand scheme of things.



We’ve come a long way in a really short span of time. At first, we were wonderstruck with all the ‘magic’ that surrounded us. But we didn’t have all the answers.
We’re highly empathetic and curious creatures. It was our innate curiosity that drove our burning desire for knowledge and understanding.

Primitive as we were and still are, we always want to put things into boxes and categories to help us fathom the complexities of everything around  because at some level it gave us a sense of security, since we were so afraid of the unknown.
We were afraid of the void of space and the darkness of night and the predators that came with it, so we worshiped the Sun. We respected it as a deity because it gave us light and warmth and it didn’t take us long to figure out that nothing would survive without it.

Egypt Sun God Ankh

Sun God

Sun worship Catholicism

Sun worship in Catholicism

As our boxes and categories grew more and more complex, we realized that the Sun wasn’t exactly what we thought it to be.

No doubt, it’s attributes remained the same but we learnt that it was a star, amongst countless others. And thus it became less special, less ‘magical’.

While we learnt how most things work, it’s just the tip of the ice berg for we have such a long journey ahead. We’ve turned so much of what we considered to be science fiction to a present day reality.

You’d be surprised to know just how much Science doesn’t know and still can’t explain till today. The Placebo effect, the purpose of Yawning, Why the Sun’s atmosphere is 15,000 degrees Celsius more hotter than it’s actual surface (which is a mere estimate of 5505 degrees C), the Voynich Manuscript– a book that nobody can decipher and the Antikythera Mechanism– an ancient analog computer, just to name a few.

Another phenomena that isn’t fully understood is that of Sonoluminesence.
Don’t let the number of letters in that word fool you.Simply put it is the conversion of sound to light. On a more  precise note, it occurs when sound waves enter water and create bubbles which burst and emit light.

No conventional explanation for why this might be happening exists, although the most popular idea in the past was that the extreme forces of sound create nuclear fusion, which led to the humorous term “the Star in a Jar.” However research from recent studies on the matter  have concluded that no actual fusion takes place. So what’s actually going on then?

Cavitating bubble

Cavitating bubble

When these bubbles burst or cavitate in a liquid they’re  hot, like really hot. Temperatures varied according to conditions of the experiments but the general range was between 8000 K – 10000 K (7726.85 C-9276.85 C). 8000 K may not seem like a lot but remember, the surface of our hot fiery molten sun is just 5,778 K!

Sonoluminesence Mechanism

Sonoluminesence Mechanism





And you’ll never guess who beat us humans to discovering it first….Shrimps!

Green Pistol Shrimp

Green Pistol Shrimp

It’s called the ‘Pistol’ Shrimp and for good reason. They usually grow from 1-2 inches long but can produce a sound louder than a jet engine!

But wait there’s more. Aquarium hobbyists have long  given up hope on keeping pistol shrimps inside actual aquariums because the sonic blast that these critters make easily cracks the aquarium glass!

Them bad ass shrimps have earned a reputation for themselves with the crew of Naval Submarines as they intentionally lurk near the sea beds of Pistol Shrimp. They do this in order to appear invisible from sonar detection because the noise the Shrimps create is so loud and  intense, other submarines find it impossible to pickup signals using sonar!

Sure ,we humans have created Sonoluminesence as well but not without all our fancy equipment and laboratory settings. These guys can do it with their claws! So what the actual fudge is going on here? Just how on Earth do they do it?

Pistol shrimp Cavitation

                Pistol shrimp in action

Apparently, they just click their claws together really fast, we’re talking quicker than 1 Millisecond (300 Micro secs approx.) and that action spawns a cavitation bubble in water which has a temperature in excess of 5000 K; all while travelling at a speed of 96 Km/Hr (60 MPH ) with a sound reaching 218 decibels! They use it to kill their prey and can stun a small fish/crab. Magical shrimp? Not really, but fascinating none the less.

My first encounter with the whole idea of converting sound to light happened on my 22nd birthday. I drank quite a few bottles of wine that day and then I had an idea.What if we could use this phenomenon as an environmentally clean source of light and sound energy?
The idea is plausible but not probable. It could be a possibility in the future with the advancement of science, I mean what couldn’t ? However it’s practicality is up for debate. Sonoluminescent-induced nuclear fusion on the other hand is practically impossible.

But with such a principle in mind, we could light up entire ocean sea beds, the deepest ones like the Mariana Trench in the Pacific ocean. We could discover so many new species & forms of life and how they continue to exist at such depths under extreme pressures and the absence of sunlight. We could use the information from those studies for the endless pursuit to grow life in outer space like conditions .

The most recent ventures in these fields have even led to growing crops on simulated Martian and Lunar soil (Link provided). Sure there could be genetically modified plants created to be devoid of Chlorophyll and hence won’t be able to photosynthesize at all; but hey, most of the organisms at those unimaginable depths are bio luminescent (their bodies can make their own light) .

That’s a start to a whole new evolutionary path and from there, well the possibilities are endless !

On that note I shall end this article with a quote from Roald Dahl-“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you; because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

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