A laser pointer or laser pen is a small portable device with a power source (usually a battery) and a laser emitting a very narrow coherent low-powered beam of visible light, intended to be used to highlight something of interest by illuminating it with a small bright spot of colored light. Power is restricted in most jurisdictions not to exceed 5 mW.
The small width of the beam and low power of typical laser pointers make the beam itself invisible in a reasonably clean atmosphere, only showing a point of light when striking an opaque surface. Some higher-powered laser pointers project a visible beam via scattering from dust particles or water droplets along the beam path. Higher-power and higher-frequency green or blue lasers may produce a beam visible even in clean air because of Rayleigh scattering from air molecules, especially when viewed in moderately-to-dimly lit conditions. The intensity of such scattering increases when these beams are viewed from angles near the beam axis. Such pointers, particularly in the green-light output range, are used as astronomical-object pointers for teaching purposes.
The recent low-cost availability of infrared (IR) diode laser modules of up to 1000 mW (1 watt) output has created a generation of IR-pumped frequency-doubled (DPSS) laser pointers in green, blue, and violet, of higher visible power, typically up to 300 mW. Because the IR-laser component in the beams of these visible lasers is difficult to filter out, and also because filtering it contributes extra heat which is difficult to dissipate in a small pocket "laser pointer" package, it is often left as a beam component in cheaper high-power pointers. This invisible laser light component causes a degree of extra potential hazard in these devices when pointed at nearby objects and persons.
Laser pointers make a potent signaling tool, even in daylight, and are able to produce a bright signal for potential search and rescue vehicles using an inexpensive, small and lightweight device of the type that could be routinely carried in a emergency kit.
Laser pointers if aimed at a person's eyes can cause temporary disturbances to vision. There is some evidence of rare minor permanent harm, but low-powered laser pointers are not seriously hazardous to health. They may be a major annoyance in some circumstances. A dot of light from a red laser pointer may be thought to be due to a laser gunsight, causing outrage and possible danger. When pointed at aircraft at night, laser pointers may dazzle and distract pilots, and increasingly strict laws have been passed to ban this.