The National Ignition Facility (NIF) -- a laser test facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Calif. -- turned on its 192 laser beams for a brief instant on March 15, unleashing a record-setting 1.875-megajoule blast into a target chamber.(from Fox News)
The lasers were combined, gathered and focused through a series of lens into a 2.03-megajoule shot, said Ed Moses, NIF director -- a record for the facility.
That pulse of energy lasted for just 23 billionths of a second, yet it generated 411 trillion watts of power, NIF said -- 1,000 times more than the entire United States consumes at any given instant.
Seriously, though, there is a practical application for this.
In fission, atoms are split and the massive energy released is captured. The NIF aims for fusion, the ongoing energy process in the sun and other stars where hydrogen and helium nuclei are continually fusing and releasing enormous amounts of energy. In the ignition facility, beams of light converge on pellets of hydrogen isotopes to create a similar, though controlled, micro-explosion.It's a tricky, dicey endeavor, what they're doing with those lasers, and I'm not sure if it violates the basic principles of physics or not. But the payoffs could be huge, especially in the power-generation industry. And isn't that what science ultimately is for?
Because the laser is on for the merest fraction of a second, it costs little to operate -- between $5 and $20 per blast, said spokeswoman Lynda Seaver. But the potential is enormous.
NIF’s managers hope by the end of the year to reach a break-even point, where the energy released is equal to if not greater than the energy that went into the blast.