Plasma occurs naturally as lightning and is made of charged particles, ions, and electrons. We’ve already been able to harness this power into small handheld plasma torches that cut through metal. Although scientists haven’t developed a real lightsaber yet, they’ve created something even more mind-blowing: a floating plasma ring.

Engineers in California Institue of Technology (CalTech) have “essentially captured lightning in a bottle but without the bottle.”

So how did they create a ring of lightning in a lab? Well, it’s rather less dramatic than you might expect: they shoot water at a crystal. Actually, it’s a super high powered ultra thin stream of pure water at a smooth quartz or lithium niobate crystal plate. The water jet is thinner than hair at  85-microns in diameter and hits the crystal plate at 1,000 feet per second with a pressure force of 9,000 pounds per square inch!

Basically, the impact creates an electric charge whose electrons ionize surrounding gas molecules to form a toroidal plasma ring.

While it looks pretty cool, it currently has no commercial application except for maybe storing energy like a battery in the future.

“We were told by some colleagues this wasn’t even possible. But we can create a stable ring and maintain it for as long as we want, no vacuum or magnetic field or anything,”

– Francisco Pereira, Caltech visiting fellow Marine Technology Research

Pereira is a co-author of the study published in the journal of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, together with Caltech’s Morteza Gharib.

Besides potentially storing energy, Gharib’s team discovered radio frequencies emitted by the plasma ring. “That’s never been seen before. We think it’s because of the piezo properties of the materials that we used in our experiments,” Pereira explained.

Can’t wait for a plasma car.