Out of curiosity, I pried apart a laser pointer from Dollar Tree. See that tiny spot next to the blob-top circuit (probably the current regulator/driver)? That’s the laser diode.
I really want a microscope now to see what the heck is going on here!
There’s a lens to focus this into a more, uh, pointer-like beam. I haven’t figured out how to photograph this well yet but the uncollimated output is a wide elongated ellipse of light with pond ripple patterns at the ends.
For some reason I always envisioned the common laser diode to be a bigger object, but no— it’s teeny weeny. Cool.