Space

Record Breaking 2,000 Trillion Watts Laser

By Vlad Tverdohleb , Aug 18, 2015 08:37 PM EDT
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At Osaka University in Japan has been recently tested the Laser for Fast Ignition Experiments (LFEX), the most powerful laser ever created.  The device has been boosted to produce a beam with a peak power of two petawatts (2,000 trillion watts). The peak power could be reached for approximately a trillionth of a second or one picosecond, an incredibly short duration.

A power with such a large value is difficult to grasp. For better understanding, we can think of it as the overall power of all the sun's solar energy that falls on a city like London, or a billion times more powerful than a typical stadium floodlight. Imagine all this incredible power focusing for the duration of a trillionth of a second onto a surface as wide as a human hair. Essentially this is the LFEX laser.

The Japanese laser is just one of a series of ultra-high power devices being built across the world. They are ranging from the CoReLS laser in South Korea to the gigantic 192-beam National Ignition Facility in California and the Vulcan laser at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory outside Oxford, U.K.

Other projects are still in design stages. The most ambitious is perhaps the Extreme Light Infrastructure build by an international collaboration from Eastern Europe. When the project will be operational this a laser will be 10 times more powerful even than the LFEX.

Scientists all over the world are driven to build these high-tech optical and electronic devices order to research experiments recreating the early universe. The only means scientists have to recreate the extreme environments found in space, such as in the core of giant planets as Jupiter or in the atmosphere of stars is to use lasers as powerful.

Ordinary matter is instantaneously vaporized when an ultra-powerful laser is fired at it, leading to an extremely hot and dense ionized gas, called a plasma. This extreme state of matter is a very common occurrence in space but extremely rare on Earth. According to scientists, almost 99 percent of the matter in the universe is believed to be in a plasma state.

Ultra-powerful lasers allow researchers to create a small replica of these extreme objects and states from the universe that they can be studied in the laboratories on Earth in a controlled manner. It is like traveling back in time by recreating the conditions found in the early universe at just moments after the Big Bang.

These extremely hot and dense environments possible to create only by using ultra-powerful lasers have already taught scientists a lot about the evolution and the current state of the universe. But beyond their input theoretical research, on a more practical note, laser devices are also at the core of important practical applications.

Current research into alternative and clean energy as well as healthcare, for instance, can benefit from laser applications. The LFEX itself applies to the energy research since it is built to study nuclear fusion. Fusion, unlike fission, does not generate radioactive waste. Fusion fuels could be easier to handle and store than uranium used in our current fission power facilities.

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