Light exerts physical pressure on objects in its path, a phenomenon which can be deduced by Maxwell's equations, but can be more easily explained by the particle nature of light: photons strike and transfer their momentum. Light pressure is equal to the power of the light beam divided by c, the speed of light. Due to the magnitude of c, the effect of light pressure is negligible for everyday objects. For example, a one-milliwatt laser pointer exerts a force of about 3.3 piconewtons on the object being illuminated; thus, one could lift a U.S. penny with laser pointers, but doing so would require about 30 billion 1-mW laser pointers.
However, in nanometre-scale applications such as nanoelectromechanical systems (|NEMS), the effect of light pressure is more significant, and exploiting light pressure to drive NEMS mechanisms and to flip nanometre-scale physical switches in integrated circuits is an active area of research. At larger scales, light pressure can cause asteroids to spin faster, acting on their irregular shapes as on the vanes of a windmill. The possibility of making solar sails that would accelerate spaceships in space is also under investigation