While CERN researchers are busy potentially obliterating the Earth by creating a black hole in France, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore Lab have their own Doomsday machine: a 10-story laser that may well create a miniature star over Northern California.
The $US3.5 billion, 192-beam National Ignition Facility of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California is the largest and most powerful operational laser on Earth. Built to potentially achieve nuclear fusion in the lab, the NIF is essentially creating a miniature star on Earth. "The system already has produced 25 times more energy than any other laser system," said NIF Director Ed Moses.
The NIF's 192 beams are housed in a ten-storey super-structure and travel roughly the length of three football fields from the originating master oscillators to the centre of the target chamber. As they move through NIF's amplifiers, the beams' energy level increases exponentially, from approximately one-billionth of a joule to over four million (that's an increase of, what, one billion percent?), over the course of 25 billionths of a second. At the centre of the chamber rests a BB-sized sphere of hydrogen fuel. When the 192 beams simultaneously strike this target from all directions (the same idea as compressing the uranium core of a nuclear bomb), the hydrogen atoms' nuclei fuse and release exponentially more energy than the reaction initiation requires.
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