Scientists in California fired up 192 laser beams simultaneously onto a single, tiny, two-millimeter target, producing and unbelievable 500 trillion watts of energy. To put it into context, that’s about 1,000 times more power than the entire United States uses at any given time. Scientists aren’t just firing off super-powerful lasers for fun, though; the team at the National Ignition Facility ultimately hope that by aiming the 10-story laser at a compressed pellet of hydrogen they’ll be able to kickstart a nuclear fusion reaction and produce an unlimited supply of clean energy.

World's Largest Laser, National Ignition Facility, NIF, lasers, Nuclear Fusion, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Work began on the National Ignition Facility, which is located about 40 miles east of San Francisco at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, more than a decade ago, but the first laser experiments were held in 2009 and 2010. In a highly-publicized 2010 test, 75 percent of the laser’s power was used during an experiment, but this time it was set to full-throttle.

“NIF is becoming everything scientists planned when it was conceived over two decades ago,” said NIF Director Edward Moses in a statement. “It is fully operational, and scientists are taking important steps toward achieving ignition and providing experimental access to user communities for national security, basic science and the quest for clean fusion energy.”

The latest laser shot, which lasted only 23 billionths of a second, was by far the most powerful one in history, and it represents a significant step towards producing clean fusion energy. A fusion reaction would itself generate energy, so we’d end up getting more energy than it would take to spark the reaction. Within two years, scientists hope to fire the 192 lasers at a condensed pellet of hydrogen.

Via Daily Mail


Photos © Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory