Thursday, April 29, 2010

Can world's largest laser zap Earth's energy woes?

This is the "stuff" that the series "Star Wars" is made of. Who knows, this may be the science breakthrough that sends us to the "Stars".

Scientists at a government lab here are trying to use the world's largest laser -- it's the size of three football fields -- to set off a nuclear reaction so intense that it will make a star bloom on the surface of the Earth.

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's formula for cooking up a sun on the ground may sound like it's stolen from the plot of an "Austin Powers" movie. But it's no Hollywood fantasy: The ambitious experiment will be tried for real, and for the first time, late this summer.

If they're successful, the scientists hope to solve the global energy crisis by harnessing the energy generated by the mini-star.

The fusion reaction at the heart of this recipe is the same one that fuels the sun in our solar system and other stars.

"It's the most fundamental energy source in nature," Van Wonterghem said.

Workers at the Livermore Lab insist that the reaction isn't dangerous. Their version of fusion is controlled, rather than explosive like in America's current arsenal of nuclear weapons, which include a fusion reaction.

"There's no danger to the public," said Lynda Seaver, spokeswoman for the project.

"The [worst possible] mishap is, it doesn't work."

The value of this summer's experiment in laser-induced fusion will be in proving that powerful beams of light can produce a controlled fusion reaction, Seaver said.

It will take at least another 20 years, with adequate funding, to develop a continuous fusion reaction that could heat water, create steam and turn generators at a commercial fusion power plant, she said.
Read article here.

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