Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's National Ignition Facility (NIF) have achieved a laser shot which boggles the mind: 192 beams delivered an excess of 500 trillion-watts (TW) of peak power and 1.85 megajoules (MJ) of ultraviolet laser light to a target of just two millimeters in diameter. To put those numbers into perspective, 500 TW is more than one thousand times the power that the entire United States uses at any instant in time. Pew-Pew indeed ...
The NIF is funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy which is responsible for enhancing national security through the application of nuclear science, and the news comes at a time when the U.S. military and various government agencies appear to be increasingly interested in the use of lasers as potential weapons.
However, though the potential national security benefits of such a powerful laser are clear, NIF also provides unique opportunities for wholly scientific pursuits. NIF is said to be the only such facility to offer the potential of duplicating phenomena which occurs in the heart of a modern nuclear device and this is cited by the lab as a key tool to be employed in order to keep underground nuclear testing firmly in the past.
The equipment at NIF allows scientists to study the states of matter which can occur in the centers of planets, stars and other celestial objects and further to this, the scientists based at NIF also work toward the goal of clean and sustainable fusion energy by aiming to ignite hydrogen fusion fuel in the lab and thus produce more energy than originally supplied to the target.
"For scientists across the nation and the world who, like ourselves, are actively pursuing fundamental science under extreme conditions and the goal of laboratory fusion ignition, this is a remarkable and exciting achievement," said Dr. Richard Petrasso, senior research scientist and division head of high energy density physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Having exceeded 1 MJ operation for the first time back in March 2009, the NIF has since increased its operational energy output by roughly 1 kilojoule each day, and the lab is currently operating 24 hours a day at unprecedented performance levels, with the 1.85 megajoules of energy recently achieved equivalent to approximately 100 times what any other laser can regularly produce.
This latest record-breaking laser shot is the culmination of 15 years of work by researchers at NIF and their experience is to be put to use elsewhere, with the team influencing the design of other giant laser facilities being built or planned in the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Japan and China.
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