Scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in Livermore are attempting to create an artificial Sun on Earth – an achievement that will provide answer to the world’s impending energy shortage.
For nearly 100 years the goal seemed impossible, but now scientists believe that they are on brink of cracking one of the biggest problems in physics by harnessing the power of nuclear fusion, the reaction that burns at the heart of the Sun.
The attempt will be made by the researchers this spring.
The team will try to ignite a tiny man-made star inside a laboratory and trigger a thermonuclear reaction.
Its goal is to generate temperatures of more than 100 million degrees Celsius and pressures billions of times higher than those found anywhere else on earth, from a speck of fuel little bigger than a pinhead.
If the project is successful, the experiment will mark the first step towards building a practical nuclear fusion power station and a source of almost limitless energy.
The researchers will use a laser that concentrates 1,000 times the electric generating power of the United States into a billionth of a second.
The result should be an explosion in the 32ft-wide reaction chamber which will produce at least 10 times the amount of energy used to create it.
“We are creating the conditions that exist inside the Sun,” said Ed Moses, director of the facility.
“It is like tapping into the real solar energy as fusion is the source of all energy in the world. It is really exciting physics, but beyond that there are huge social, economic and global problems that it can help to solve,” the expert added.
The laser, which has been housed within a hanger-sized room that has to be pumped clear of dust to prevent impurities getting into the beam, will be split into 192 separate beams, converted into ultraviolet light and focused into a capsule at the centre of an aluminium and concrete-coated target chamber, reports the Telegraph.
When the laser beams hit the inside of the capsule, they should generate high-energy X-rays that, within a few billionths of a second, compress the fuel pellet inside until its outer shell blows off.
The explosion of the fuel pellet shell produces an equal and opposite reaction that compresses the fuel itself together until nuclear fusion begins, releasing vast amounts of energy.