If you live in San Francisco's Bay Area and your name is Darth Vader, head to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for the hottest laser action in the galaxy. Instead of destroying planets, however, the $3-billion National Ignition Facility will be used to fuse hydrogen atoms to create a small star and, in theory, get us closer to an endless power source. A PBS crew got into the facility to film it, and the only thing that comes to mind is "impressive. Very Impressive." The process is fascinating.

It all starts with a single laser, which is split into 48 separate beams. The beams are then redirected using mirrors into amplifiers—previously pumped by a total of 7,680 Xenon flash lamps— and, after four bounces, they 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 they will be amplified again at an exponential rate.


The result: from a tiny 1/billionth of a joule laser, the scientists at the National Ignition Facility will end up with rays "a foot on the their side" with a combined "1.8 million joules of ultraviolet energy", 1,000 times the energy of all the power plants in the United States combined. That's five trillion watts (and as any numbnuts know, a trillion is more than a million.)

The lasers will then compress the frozen hydrogen fuel cell pictured here, which will be enclosed in a gold-plated cylinder called the hohlraum. The hohlraum—which was probably brought through a Stargate— is located inside the 32.8-foot-diameter ignition chamber, and it will transforms the lasers into extremely intense X-rays, compressing the hydrogen at one hundred billion atmospheres in just 1/1,000,000 of a second.

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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.

All this in theory. The questions is:

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I'm leaning to the third option. Good bye, California. It was good while it lasted. Your only hope: that Europe vaporizes the solar system first with their Large Hadron Collider. [National Ignition Facility, NIF at Wikipedia, FusEdWeb, and Lasers at Wikipedia via Quest]