oa Quest - Laser experiments replicate star conditions : shooting for the stars

Volume 15 Number 4
  • ISSN : 1729-830X



Using the world’s largest and most energetic laser, scientists in the USA have been replicating the extreme temperature and density conditions inside stars to better understand the process of element formation within them. The laser is known as the National Ignition Facility (NIF), and it’s located at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. The NIF building is so enormous that three football fi elds could fi t inside it, and much of it is devoted to the laser and target area section. Here, almost 40 000 optics – including lenses, laser glass slabs, mirrors and frequency conversion crystals – precisely guide, refl ect, amplify and focus 192 laser beams. A beam travels about 1 500 m in a few millionths of a second to arrive at a 3 mm-wide target in the centre of a 10 m-wide chamber. The tiny target is a gas- or ice-fi lled capsule typically containing hydrogen or helium isotopes, and when blasted with up to 1.8 million joules of energy it implodes, resulting in an extremely hot and dense core of plasma (freely moving ions and free electrons), where nuclear reactions occur.

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