World’s largest laser fires up for attempt to build new star on Earth
The laser at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is roughly the size of three American football fields, and those in charge of it aren’t joking when they say they’ll create a tiny sun in the next few months.
It’s called the National Ignition Facility and it’s all about finding the holy grail of energy production – nuclear fusion – a high-energy reaction that would theoretically provide limitless energy for humanity.
In a nutshell, the laboratory hopes to split its laser beam up into 192 beams, then fire them at a tiny target wrapped in gold that’s smaller than a fingernail.
Nerd alert – inside the target there’s a couple of reactive hydrogen isotopes, so you know what comes next.
The heat from the laser will fuse those isotopes together in reaction that at 100 million degrees Celsius, more than five times hotter than the centre of the sun.
There is a slight radioactive danger, but the lab has encased the facility in concrete walls that are two metres thick, just in case.
But the payoff is that if the isotopes fuse, the tiny star will emit enough energy to power the Earth.
That is, for the 200 trillionths of a second that it survives.
“It’s the most fundamental energy source in nature,” project manager Bruno Van Wonterghem told CNN.
The only fuel it requires is seawater, the source of the aforementioned isotopes.
If it’s successful, the laboratory hopes the project, which has so far been five years in development and cost more than $2 billion, will deliver useable outcomes within 20 years.
“This is something you’re going to tell your grandchildren about,” Mr Van Wonterghem told CNN.
“It’s like standing on the hill watching the Wright brothers’ plane go by.”