Laser Facility Makes Historic 500 Terawatt Shot

Lee Rannals for – Your Universe Online

If all Marty McFly needed was 1.21 gigawatts to travel through time, then one feat accomplished at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory‘s National Ignition Facility (NIF) would provide him enough fuel to travel back to the future 413,223 times.

The team made a historic record-breaking laser shot after 15 years of work on July 15, delivering over 500 terawatts, or 500 trillion watts, of power.

The amount of power generated by the NIF team is 1,000 times more power than the U.S. uses at any instant in time.

The NIF laser system is made up of 192 beams, and on July 5 it shot out 1.85 megajoules (MJ) of ultraviolet laser light at its target. This power is about 100 times what any other laser regularly produces today.

The lasers fired within a few trillionths of a second back to each other onto a 2-millimeter-diameter target. The total energy matched the amount requested by shot managers to within better than 1 percent.

The beam-to-beam uniformity was within 1 percent, making NIF not only the highest energy laser of its kind, but also the most precise.

“NIF is becoming everything scientists planned when it was conceived over two decades ago,” NIF Director Edward Moses said in a statement. “It is fully operational, and scientists are taking important steps toward achieving ignition and providing experimental access to user communities for national security, basic science and the quest for clean fusion energy.”

The July 5 shot was the third experiment in which total energy exceeded 1.8 MJ on the target. On July 3, scientists achieved the highest energy laser shot ever fired, with more than 1.89 MJ delivered to the target at a peak power of 423 terawatts.

A March 15 shot set the stage for the July 5 experiment, by delivering 1.8 MJ for the first time, with a peak power of 411 terawatts.

“The 500 TW shot is an extraordinary accomplishment by the NIF Team, creating unprecedented conditions in the laboratory that hitherto only existed deep in stellar interiors,” Dr. Richard Petrasso, senior research scientist and division head of high energy density physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in a press release. “For scientists across the nation and the world who, like ourselves, are actively pursuing fundamental science under extreme conditions and the goal of laboratory fusion ignition, this is a remarkable and exciting achievement.”

The facility is helping to make a unique opportunity for scientists to create the same extreme states of matter that exist in the centers of planets, stars and other celestial objects.