We demonstrate an effect whereby stochastic, thermal fluctuations combine with nonconservative optical forces to break detailed balance and produce increasingly coherent, apparently deterministic motion for a vacuum-trapped particle. The particle is birefringent and held in a linearly polarized Gaussian optical trap. It undergoes oscillations that grow rapidly in amplitude as the air pressure is reduced, seemingly in contradiction to the equipartition of energy. This behavior is reproduced in direct simulations and captured in a simplified analytical model, showing that the underlying mechanism involves nonsymmetric coupling between rotational and translational degrees of freedom. When parametrically driven, these self-sustained oscillators exhibit an ultranarrow linewidth of 2.2 μHz and an ultrahigh mechanical quality factor in excess of 2 × 108 at room temperature. Last, nonequilibrium motion is seen to be a generic feature of optical vacuum traps, arising for any system with symmetry lower than that of a perfect isotropic microsphere in a Gaussian trap.
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