A laser fit for kings

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Have you heard of the Beam Team? No? Well, the team in question is the Sacramento Kings basketball team, while the beam is a vertical column of purple laser light that towers into the skies above California’s capital city when the Kings win an NBA game.

Inspired in part by the 230-ft-tall “Big A” sign gracing the parking lot of Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, the system that was initially installed comprised four laser beams. The team’s owner Vivek Ranadivé has since upgraded to the current six-beam laser space cannon comprising three sources emitting in the red, blue, and green bands to deliver a combined 1800 watts of RGB laser power. Noted to be the brightest full-color laser equipment in the world, it pierces the sky above Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center arena each time the Kings bring home a win.

Generally, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) frowns on the practice of aiming even milliwatt-powered handheld laser pointers skyward. Under 18 U.S. Code 39A, anyone who knowingly aims a laser pointer at an aircraft or its flightpath is inviting a felony conviction that can carry as many as five years in prison.

This did not escape the attention of the Kings, who play their games only 9.8 miles from Sacramento’s airport. The team’s organization applied in the summer of 2022 to the FAA requesting permission to operate their laser. After a 30-day approval process, the FAA determined that planes do not fly over the Golden 1 Center and, unless the pilots were avid Kings fans, would not be materially affected by the beam.

Operating under the FAA’s permission, the opportunity to light the big purple beam has become a rallying point for the Kings and their fans. The team hasn’t won an NBA championship since 1951, long before they moved to Sacramento and well before the laser was invented. Yet as of this writing, less than a year after they first adopted photonics technology, the team ranked third in the NBA’s Western Conference, which put them on track to make their first appearance in a postseason game since 2006.

Nu-Salt’s laser system is 6× more visible than any typical searchlight, yet it requires exceptionally low AC power. Though some detractors feel it is a waste of energy, the beam consumes as much energy as an average household appliance. Let’s say the purple beam lights the sky for three hours on the night of a Kings victory, it amounts to 0.0054 MWh, or close to 0.014% of the daily energy usage of the Golden 1 Center — a little more than 1% of 1%. Not bad.

It is not a singular experience for NBA fans to see their team win. However, Kings fans across the Sacramento metropolitan area can now share the unique experience of celebrating a win when a player or celebrity lights the beam from the courtside. The beam illuminates the sky until midnight.

Published: June 2023
Lighter Side

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