May 30, 2009

Super Laser As Hot As A Star Unveiled

On Friday, a U.S. weapons lab unveiled a super laser with the power to burn as hot as a star.

The National Ignition Facility's main purpose for the tool is to gauge the reliability and safety of the U.S. nuclear-weapons arsenal, but scientists say it could deliver breakthroughs in safe fusion power.

"We have invented the world's largest laser system," actor-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said during a dedication ceremony attended by thousands including state and national officials.

"We can create the stars right here on earth. And I can see already my friends in Hollywood being very upset that their stuff that they show on the big screen is obsolete. We have the real stuff right here."

NIF is considered the world's highest-energy laser system.  It is located in the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which is about an hour from San Francisco.

Equipment connects a house-sized sphere that focuses 192 laser beams on a small point, generating temperatures and pressures that exists at cores of stars or giant planets.

According to the laboratory, NIF will be able to create conditions and experiments never before possible on Earth.

NIF director Edward Moses said that a fusion reactions triggered by the super laser hitting hydrogen atoms will produce more energy than was required to prompt "ignition."

Moses says that "this is the long-sought goal of 'energy gain' that has been the goal of fusion researchers for over half a century."

"NIF's success will be a scientific breakthrough of historic significance; the first demonstration of fusion ignition in a laboratory setting, duplicating on Earth the processes that power the stars."

The NIF's construction began in 1997 and was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

"NIF, a cornerstone of the National Nuclear Security Administration's effort to maintain our nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing, will play a vital role in reshaping national security in the 21st century," said NNSA administrator Tom D'Agostino.

"This one-of-a-kind facility is the only place in the world that is capable of providing some of the most critical technical means to safely maintain the viability of the nation's nuclear stockpile."

NIF, according to scientists, also promises discoveries in planetary science and astrophysics by recreating conditions that exists in supernovas, black holes, and in the cores of giant planets.

According to lab officials, electricity derived from fusion reactions similar to what takes place in the sun might help suffice humanity's growing appetite for green energy.

"Very shortly we will engage in what many believe to be this nation's greatest challenge thus far, one that confronts not only the nation but all of mankind -- energy independence," said lab director George Miller.

The lab was founded in 1952 and is a research institution for science and technology applied to national security.

"This laser system is an incredible success not just for California, but for our country and our world," Schwarzenegger said.

"NIF has the potential to revolutionize our energy system, teaching us a new way to harness the energy of the sun to power our cars and homes."


Image Caption: The interior of the NIF target chamber . The service module carrying technicians can be seen on the left.  The target positioner, which holds the target, is on the right. LLNL


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