The United States' National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in California has fired the most powerful laser in history, a record-breaking 2-megajoule shot. The laser was originally designed to reach 1.875-megajoules, but beat everyone's expectations—and set a new world record in the process.
192 laser beams combined to form the single shot, initially reaching 1.875 megajoules. By the time it passed through its final focusing lens, the laser maxed out at 2.03 megajoules, making it the world's first 2-megajoule ultraviolet laser. Better yet, the blast caused less damage to the laser optics than predicted, which allowed the facility to fire another shot just 36 hours after the 2.03-megajoule one.
How it works
It all starts with a single laser, which is split into 48 separate beams. The beams are then redirected, using mirrors, into amplifiers that have been previously pumped by a total of 7,680 Xenon flash lamps. After four bounces, the beams are further split into 192 rays through all the facility—which is the size of three football fields. As they travel through those endless tubes, the beams are amplified again at an exponential rate.
The result: from a tiny 1/billionth of a joule laser, the scientists at the National Ignition Facility obtain rays "a foot on their side" with a combined "2.03 million joules of ultraviolet energy," 1,000 times the energy of all the power plants in the United States combined, even while it's only for a fraction of a second.
This time, the facility wasn't firing into any target. This will come later in the year, as the facility—which is supported by the US Nuclear Weapons Complex—races to achieve ignition in its first nuclear fusion experiment.
What does that entail? The powerful lasers will compress this frozen hydrogen fuel cell, which will itself be enclosed in a gold-plated cylinder called the hohlraum. The hohlraum is located inside a 32.8-foot-diameter ignition chamber, and it will transform the lasers into extremely intense X-rays, compressing the hydrogen at one hundred billion atmospheres in just 1/1,000,000 of a second.
This will trigger a controlled nuclear fusion reaction that will create a small star, hopefully generating more power than the energy used to fire the laser and contain the intense heat inside the chamber. If this is successful, we may be witnessing the beginning of a new clean power source that may end our dependency on fission nuclear power, oil and coal.
According to Ed Moses—director of the National Ignition Faciliy—"it's a remarkable demonstration of the laser from the standpoint of its energy, its precision, its power, and its availability." What Ed was actually trying to say is "AMERICA F*CK YEAH!" [National Ignition Facility via Nature via Physorg]