It may look like a mid-70s prog rock album cover, but this is actually an illustration of the potential future of thermonuclear energy production in progress.
The image comes from the National Ignition Facility, which opened this week in California and aims to use lasers to turn tiny pellets of hydrogen into thermonuclear energy, as the UK Guardian newspaper explains:
Inside the building, scientists will use the world's most powerful laser to create 192 separate beams of light that will be directed at a bead of frozen hydrogen in a violent burst lasting five billionths of a second. Each fuel pellet measures just two millimetres across but costs around $40,000, because they must be perfectly spherical to ensure they collapse properly when the laser light strikes.
The intense beams produce a powerful shockwave that crunches the fuel pellet at a million miles an hour, generating temperatures of around 100,000,000C. Under such extreme conditions, which are found only in the core of stars, the hydrogen atoms will fuse, producing helium and vast amounts of energy.
Don't expect a speedy answer as to whether the theory will hold up in practice; the experiments - which are scheduled to continue until 2040 - will not even reach full intensity for another 12 months. But, considering that it's taken almost 15 years to get the facility built, I'm assuming that everyone involved is already fine with the patience thing.
California fires up laser fusion machine [Guardian.co.uk]