Surprising Scientific Mystery Solved

Not every year sees a big discovery in Earth’s basic natural sciences, but MIT has made one using precise measurements, shedding new light on something many thought they knew well: evaporation.

This discovery might clarify puzzling data about clouds in scientific literature, potentially refining climate models and aiding industries.

In their study, MIT found that evaporation can happen just with light, no heat required, a surprising finding tested rigorously 14 times to validate. One key finding was that the air cools briefly above the evaporating water, proving heat isn’t necessary.

Professor Gang Chen noted various potential applications, including better understanding cloud effects on climate. The study also noted that evaporation is strongest when light hits at a 45° angle or is green, despite water being most transparent to green light.

They suggest that light particles hitting water molecules at certain angles can cause evaporation, calling it the photomolecular effect, akin to the photoelectric effect discovered in 1887.

As seen in satellite and flight data, clouds absorb more sunlight than expected which has been a mystery for decades and could possibly be linked to this effect.

The team thinks this effect could also explain anomalies in solar desalination research.

Since publishing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Chen has been contacted by companies interested in using this effect for various purposes, from drying paper to evaporating maple syrup.

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