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How Far Do Laser Pointers Go? The Interesting Answer!

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green laser pointer

Laser pointers can go miles. According to a theory, they can go on forever till the end of the universe. Basically, their range depends on the strength of their laser source. For example, an ordinary pocket laser can go from 500 meters to 1 kilometer with 5 milliwatts (mW) of power.

Laser pointers come in various shapes and sizes. You may already have a pocket one for your business presentations or to play with your furry pets. The more powerful ones are used professionally, mainly by military men and scientists. These pointers can reach higher distances.

Many believe these lasers can even go to the moon, but it’s not yet confirmed. If you have more questions about your laser pointer, let’s discover some interesting facts.

magnifying glass 2 divider What Is the Maximum Distance Laser Pointers Can Reach?

There is no straight answer to this question. That’s because the maximum distance a laser pointer can reach varies depending on how powerful the laser source is. So, the more powerful the laser, the farther distance it can travel.

A majority of laser pointers come with a 5 mW beam laser source. The federal laws allow selling laser pointers with 5 mW or less if they follow the CDRH production guidelines. These requirements include the laser’s safety features, appropriate labeling, and quality control.

Yet, there are many lasers on the market that exceed this limit. To use the laser pointers legally, you must ensure that the one you’re buying operates at 5 mW or less.

Less power than 5 mW may sound weak, but they can reach considerable distances. In fact, they can be seen from an airplane flying in the sky at a distance of 12 miles minimum. At this altitude, the laser appears as a dot.

hand holding green laser pointer
Image Credit: Cucu Andrei Adrian, Shutterstock

How Can Laser Light Travel This Far?

Laser light may seem like an ordinary light source, but they are far more focused and precise. But how do they travel farther than the rest? The shortest answer to this question is that lasers have waves with similar wavelengths that travel together.

The color of the light also matters a lot. In case you don’t know, every light color has a unique wavelength. For instance, blue laser light has a shorter wavelength than red light but longer than purple light.

Many light sources have a combination of multiple colors. As a result, the light disperses to shorter distances and fades away before reaching far.

On the other hand, laser beams have a single color and wavelength, allowing the light to move together. This prevents the light from spreading everywhere and reaching farther distances. The resulting light beam is narrow, sharp, and focused. This is why a laser light travels longer distances than a torch or smartphone’s flashlight.

Are Lasers Dangerous?

Lasers have exceptional ranges that can penetrate through thick air in the sky. However, they can be dangerous, especially the powerful ones.

Whether using a standard pocket laser pointer or a high-end one, you shouldn’t pinpoint it at an airplane or any other object or vehicle. Doing so could cause a distraction for the pilot or the driver, leading to multiple problems.

The laser beams travel in narrow paths. If you directly aim the pointer at your friend’s eye, even from a short distance, the illuminated dot on their eyeball is expected to be 30 times brighter than the afternoon Sun.

So, never use a laser pointer irresponsibly and refrain from aiming it at objects, humans, and vehicles without any reason.

blue laser pointer
Image Credit: OlTarakanov, Shutterstock

Can a Laser Beam Travel to the Moon?

Let’s discuss the most asked question: Can a laser beam travel to the moon, or is it a myth? Unfortunately, there is no direct answer to this question, as several factors play a role here.

If you see it theoretically, a laser light more potent than 5 mW could reach the moon in ideal conditions. For example, suppose there are no obstructing objects or sunlight. But it is unlikely that it’s practically possible. 

A standard pocket laser pointer cannot reach the moon, as it is not powerful enough. However, even the most powerful ones may not be able to achieve this milestone.

Remember that using lasers can cause harm to you, nearby people, and objects in the way. So, it’s better not to use them without safety measures, especially if you’re a beginner who has only used toy laser pointers.

Conversely, you can’t observe the laser light from the Earth. The light would have to reflect off the moon and return to the Earth for this to happen. Again, this is not theoretically or practically possible.

So, the bottom line is that you could observe the laser light on the moon under ideal conditions and with a powerful laser. It all depends on your luck and the circumstances.

Can a Laser Beam Go to the End of the Universe?

Again, the answer to this question is complicated. It is divided into theoretical and realistic ways of thinking. According to the theoretical aspect, laser beams can go to the end of the universe. However, it’s not realistically possible.

Since the laser light travels together, it’s supposed to have an infinite range. But that’s only possible under ideal circumstances (nothing comes in its way), which is almost impossible.

Of course, there won’t be any humans in the sky, but there must be birds, insects, water vapors, air, and dust. Anything classified as solid, liquid, or gas can interfere with a laser beam.

With that being said, some powerful laser pointers could penetrate some liquids and gas. But the light may fade away at some point.

green laser pointer
Image Credit: Cucu Andrei Adrian, Shutterstock

The Most Powerful Lasers

Scientific centers all over the globe work with powerful lasers operating at thousands of trillion watts. These lasers may consume the whole world’s electricity within a few seconds if operated continuously. That’s how massive and powerful they are!

The most powerful lasers can hold such intense energy by concentrating the release over a super short time period. It is mainly below a trillionth of a second. This short laser beam is then focused to the point present at some thousandths of a millimeter. As a result, it can be about ten trillion times sharper and brighter than the Sun’s surface.

Many scientists are using these powerful lasers to divide empty space and learn more about the laws of the universe.

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Summing Up

Laser pointers are handy tools to concentrate the viewer’s focus at a certain point. You can find pocket laser pointers with different ranges and power limits on the market. The legal limit is 5 mW or less, and any amount higher may cause trouble for you.

A 5 mW laser pointer can go about 500 meters to 1 kilometer. You can even see laser beams from airplanes and even on the moon. For the latter, you must have a powerful pointer.

However, it’s better not to use a powerful laser pointer, as it can damage the object, humans, and vehicles they’re pointed at.


Featured Image Credit: Svetliy, Shutterstock

About the Author Jeff Weishaupt

Jeff is a tech professional by day, writer, and amateur photographer by night. He's had the privilege of leading software teams for startups to the Fortune 100 over the past two decades. He currently works in the data privacy space. Jeff's amateur photography interests started in 2008 when he got his first DSLR camera, the Canon Rebel. Since then, he's taken tens of thousands of photos. His favorite handheld camera these days is his Google Pixel 6 XL. He loves taking photos of nature and his kids. In 2016, he bought his first drone, the Mavic Pro. Taking photos from the air is an amazing perspective, and he loves to take his drone while traveling.