Slightly noisy signals can turn into rare large spikes in an optical fiber's output, in much the same way as unpredictable weather conditions occasionally create monstrous, isolated oceanic waves, researchers have found.
The new technique for creating such "rogue waves" in the lab might help physicists understand them as a general phenomenon, in the hope of predicting the risks for vessels at sea.
Rogue waves—waves significantly higher than the local average at a given time—belonged to seafarer lore long before scientists conclusively demonstrated their existence in the mid-1990s.
Theoretical studies and computer simulations have shown that rogue waves can originate from what physicists call nonlinearity. Two waves crossing each other's path ordinarily add up in height so that the new peaks' heights equal the sum of the original waves' heights. After this linear interaction, the waves will then proceed unperturbed, each on its way. Occasionally, howeve