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Lasers & Sources

Mimicking the Big Bang

Scientists at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory plan to model the center of a planet or star using laser-driven inertia confinement fusion techniques. These techniques use convergent beams of laser light to ignite small fusion explosions. The new setup at Livermore will produce pressures up to 100 billion atmospheres and temperatures of 100 million degrees. These conditions are similar to those in the center of planets and stars and also approximate conditions when nuclear weapons are detonated.

Experiments are scheduled to begin in 2010. The facility will incorporate 192 lasers, focusing on a gold cavity with a small pellet containing micrograms of the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium inside. This creates a plasma radiating x-ray that heats the outside of the pellet and blows off the outer layer. This causes the rest of the pellet to implode, which causes the fuel inside to compress and heat further, resulting in a self-sustaining burn called ignition. This will be the only facility in the world that produces more energy from the implosion than it uses to run the lasers powering it.