After 15 years of research, scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's National Ignition Facility (NIF) managed to shoot a record-breaking laser beam. An impressive 192 lasers fired a beam within a few trillionths of a second of each other onto a target two millimeters in diameter. The beam fired July 5 packed a punch of 500 trillion watts (terawatts) of power and 1.85 megajoules of energy.
To put that into perspective, that energy (the force of the laser) is 100 times stronger than any laser currently out there in use. Plus, the 500 trillion watts of power the beam delivered is 1,000 times more power than the entire United States uses at any one time.
Before this latest attempt, on March 15 the NIF team fired a high-energy laser burst of 1.8 megajoules (though with 411 terawatts of power)--2.03 megajoules if you take away diagnostics and other optics--with the aim of demonstrating the NIF's capability to deliver at least 1.8 megajoules. And on July 3, the facility managed an explosive 1.89 megajoules of energy with 425 terawatts of power, setting the standard for the most recent shot.
Of course, the whole experiment wasn't just to let off some steam. This record-breaking attempt was part of an effort to create a fusion reaction in a compressed hydrogen pellet. Such a reaction would produce a high amount of energy, which we can use to our own advantage. The laser shots not only help scientists find out how this could provide us with an abundance of sustainable energy, but could also give them a better understanding of how stars and planets form.
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