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In Star Wars, 8 laser beams fired by the death star merge into one large beam. Is this possible? It seems intuitive if you replace the laser beams with something like a bunch of baseballs (momentum in opposing directions cancel assuming your collisions are inelastic, leaving you with momentum in only one direction), but can the same thing happen with photons? What about sub-particles, like protons or neutrons?

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Visible-light photons (like the photons that make up the Death Star's laser) don't collide with each other and scatter like baseballs do. They simply pass through each other. Other particles, like protons and neutrons, do scatter off of each other.

To make the Death Star laser-merging system work, you would have to have the laser beams focused on some sort of object that would interact with the laser light. The object could either absorb and re-emit the light in one direction (like using the eight lasers as the power source for an even more powerful laser positioned at the original lasers' intersection point) or refract the light (using some sort of extremely long focal-length lens). Either way, you would need some object positioned at the intersection point of the original lasers.

Photons with energies much higher than visible-light photons occasionally do scatter off of each other, in a process known as "light-by-light scattering," but this is very rare, and you'd be hard-pressed to manipulate it in a way that would result in a particularly strong beam.

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Yes. But it isn't as easy as just bringing the lasers together. The must be in phase with one another or else you won't get a sharp beam coming out. This is just what they are planning to do for breakthrough starshot.

https://cosmosmagazine.com/space/space-lasers-and-light-sails-tech-behind-breakthrough-starshot

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    $\begingroup$ This doesn't appear to be the same situation. All that is needed in Breakthrough Starshot is focusing the lasers onto an object, which is only half of what's being asked about. The Death Star situation has eight lasers focusing onto a point and then emerging as a single laser beam. $\endgroup$ – probably_someone Jun 30 '18 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ Actually, Project Starshot is much more complicated than that. The lasers in the PS array need to have very precisely controlled relative phases, in order to perform as a single coherent beam with a 10 mm diameter. Without that initial diameters the beam can't come to a two- meter diameter focus many millions of km away from the array. $\endgroup$ – S. McGrew Jul 1 '18 at 1:33

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