The United States’ National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California just fired off the most powerful laser in history. The laser put out a beam measured at 2-megajoules, enough to put it on spot #1 for the most powerful laser in the world.
So what’s the point of this? Well, to create a small star of course! The researchers fired off a single beam of light that is then split into 48 separate beams. The beams are bounced around a warehouse that’s about the size of three football fields using mirrors, eventually the 48 beams get split up into 192 different beams and are taken through amplifiers that increase the strength of the laser every single time they bounce around the facility.
After the laser has made its way to the final exit point, the laser contains about 1,000 times the energy of all the power plants currently in place in the U.S. or about Five Trillion Watts of energy. Since this was just a test, the facility didn’t go through with the full experiment – that’s going to happen later this year when they will be shooting the laser at the small frozen hydrogen fuel cell in the image to the right. The fuel cell is going to be wrapped inside a gold plated cylinder called the Hohlraum.
This Gold plate is going to be located inside of a 32.8 foot ignition chamber and will turn the lasers into X-rays that will in turn compress the hydrogen cell at one hundred billion atmospheres in just 1/1,000,000 of a second.
Why? Because this will create a small start … a SUN! … on earth! They hope that the star is going to generate more power than the energy used to get the laser to shoot, not to mention, the chamber needs to be able to contain the heat that is going to be generated by the creation of the star. That’s if they get to make a star in the first place.
Most of the funding that the NIF has been receiving comes from the US Nuclear Weapons Complex, which uses the facility to test the physics of nuclear bombs, and the US Department of Energy’s fusion-energy budget. If they can’t get the laser to induce fusion the way they plan, the US Department of Energy Fusion-Energy budget is going to get moved around to an alternative approach that uses magnets rather than lasers to induce fusion. In this huge economic downfall that we’ve been having in the US, it’s nice to know America still has it in the bag! [via Gizmodo via Physorg]