For the first time, scientists have captured on video a liquid exploding in the beam of an X-ray laser.

X-ray lasers fire incredibly quick bursts of light to illuminate chemical reactions at the atomic level. The samples in their path can explode within a fraction of a second. The new movies, assembled at Stanford’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, offer insights for scientists about how these explosions play out.

In the videos, you can see X-ray pulses blasting apart liquid droplets, spraying debris into the surrounding beads. And when the beam hits a jet instead of a drop, it rips the stream in two. The liquid at the ragged edges of the jet flares out before starting to settle back into place.

The findings, published today in Nature Physics, may help scientists fine-tune experiments that rely on x-ray lasers to study matter under the “extreme conditions” of an explosion.