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Record Setting 500 Trillion-Watt Laser Shot Achieved 252

Posted by samzenpus
from the not-in-the-eyes dept.
cylonlover writes "Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's National Ignition Facility (NIF) have achieved a laser shot which boggles the mind: 192 beams delivered an excess of 500 trillion-watts (TW) of peak power and 1.85 megajoules (MJ) of ultraviolet laser light to a target of just two millimeters in diameter. To put those numbers into perspective, 500 TW is more than one thousand times the power that the entire United States uses at any instant in time."
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Record Setting 500 Trillion-Watt Laser Shot Achieved

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    [rimshot]

    • by durrr (1316311) on Monday July 16, 2012 @01:59PM (#40664793)

      That's not funny.
      Alderaan died that way.

      • by sconeu (64226)

        How many Bothans died to bring you that information?

      • The article doesn't say, but I'm really curious as to what kind of stuff you can blow up with this thing. Seriously. On one hand there's this massive number of watts, on the other hand the duration of the pulse is so short.Do you need total energy to be really high to blow up anything big, or would this laser do the job?

        Mark.

    • by Dishevel (1105119)

      192 sharks.

    • Important difference: The LHC was built to be massively powerful because there were (apparently accurate) calculations of what would be needed. Ignition of a fusion reaction has been Real Soon Now for decades. Evidently, the theory behind nuclear fusion reactions is not nearly as good as that behind the Higgs boson. That is the point of my snarky remark.
      • Sorry, this post somehow got displaced (?).
      • by DM9290 (797337) on Monday July 16, 2012 @04:52PM (#40666501) Journal

        Important difference: The LHC was built to be massively powerful because there were (apparently accurate) calculations of what would be needed. Ignition of a fusion reaction has been Real Soon Now for decades. Evidently, the theory behind nuclear fusion reactions is not nearly as good as that behind the Higgs boson. That is the point of my snarky remark.

        Ignition of a fusion reaction was done a long time ago. The theory is sound. The problem was never theoretical. It is technical: how to keep the hot plasma contained without using up more power generating magnetic fields than the amount of power produced by the reaction. And then actually building such a containment devices with such powerful magnets that are flawless. And then finally making the device with such low tolerances that it could be feasible in a commercial environment and maintained with very long duty cycles and very little maintenance. which means materials that can resist gama rays for many years, and can be easily replaced and maintained etc. its a huge engineering problem -- not a scientific one.

        Nuclear fusion has been real soon now for decades because the theory is so sound and so simple that its easy to underestimate the technical challenges.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by cheesybagel (670288)
          Actually JT-60 did a D-D test a couple of years back that if it had been done using D-T fuel would have generated more energy than the energy used to create fusion in the first place. The problem is D-T fusion generates a lot of neutrons and it decreases the life of the reactor. Until someone figures out some way to make the reactor materials last or some other fuel cycle with net fusion output we aren't going anywhere fast. Not to mention that the net energy generated is still pitiful.
        • by iiii (541004)
          Well said. Also, NIF defines "ignition" as "achieving nuclear fusion burn and gain", i.e. getting more energy out than you put in. They create fusion all the time, they just have not passed that breakeven point yet. There is lots of great info on their site: https://lasers.llnl.gov/ [llnl.gov]
      • Evidently, the theory behind nuclear fusion reactions is not nearly as good as that behind the Higgs boson. That is the point of my snarky remark.

        The theory is solid in both cases and at the most fundemental level is actually the same theory [wikipedia.org], not only that but the LHC found the Higgs by sifting through the debris of trillions of tiny fusion reactions.

  • One Thousand Times (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dopaz (148229) on Monday July 16, 2012 @01:38PM (#40664513) Homepage

    "To put those numbers into perspective, 500 TW is more than one thousand times the power that the entire United States uses at any instant in time."

    Except for the instant when the lasers were on, of course.

    • by ackthpt (218170) on Monday July 16, 2012 @02:11PM (#40664931) Homepage Journal

      "To put those numbers into perspective, 500 TW is more than one thousand times the power that the entire United States uses at any instant in time."

      Except for the instant when the lasers were on, of course.

      Meanwhile, we seek green energy, wind farms, etc. All this so some geeks can fire a laser and then party on about it.

      and I wasn't even invited!

      • by Noughmad (1044096) <miha.cancula@gmail.com> on Monday July 16, 2012 @02:53PM (#40665387) Homepage

        For another perspective, the 1.85MJ of energy is approximately 0.5 kWh, which is how much your boiler spends for a shower. So basically geeks that play with these lasers instead of showering spend roughly the same amount of energy.

  • by jxander (2605655) on Monday July 16, 2012 @01:39PM (#40664525)
    Enough energy to send a DeLorean back to 1985 over 400,000 times.
    • by aeortiz (1498977)

      Enough energy to send a DeLorean back to 1985 over 400,000 times.

      ... Or, 100 million times the power to fill a house with popcorn from a military satellite.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 16, 2012 @01:41PM (#40664545)

    ...and you could vaporize a human target from space.

  • Oww, it burns! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 16, 2012 @01:41PM (#40664551)

    500 TW is more than one thousand times the *average* power that the entire United States uses at any instant in time.

  • by slazzy (864185) on Monday July 16, 2012 @01:41PM (#40664555) Homepage
    How did they get the ant to stay still why they blast it?
  • Fusion Ignition (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Monday July 16, 2012 @01:41PM (#40664557) Journal

    One application of this type of engineering is to serve as an ignition swith for a fusion energy plant. In order to get a reaction going, you either need high temperatures and pressure or abslutely unbelievable temperatures and low pressure. Our sun, due to its massive size, has a lot of pressure. Here on earth we need temperatures that far exceed our sun to get fusion started. I understand we currently have laser ignition systems in tokamak (spelling?) systems, but this system would generate much higher temperatures in a quicker time period than we could with other systems.

    • by Zak3056 (69287) on Monday July 16, 2012 @01:59PM (#40664795) Journal

      One application of this type of engineering is to serve as an ignition swith for a fusion energy plant.

      They should totally tell the guys at the National Ignition Facility about this. </sarcasm>

    • by jbeaupre (752124)

      I believe this system is intended to create high pressures needed for fusion. The high temperatures of the surface are to create a shock wave.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inertial_confinement_fusion#ICF_mechanism_of_action [wikipedia.org]

    • Re:Fusion Ignition (Score:5, Informative)

      by drdread (770953) on Monday July 16, 2012 @02:38PM (#40665251)
      Lasers are not normally used in Tokamak reactors. In those systems, the idea is to use magnetic fields to hold a plasma tight enough (and long enough) for fusion to initiate. The energy input (i.e. "heating") is done ohmically, that is, by radio waves that induce electric currents in the gas. The NIF pursues a different approach, called "inertial confinement fusion." The idea in these systems is to supply a whole load of energy in a very short time, so the hydrogen nuclei don't have time to move apart before the fusion reaction takes place. That is, their inertia is what confines them long enough for the reaction to go. In order to do this, you need a giant load of energy delivered into a very small volume in a very short time. That's why they quote the number as terawatts. The interesting part of this announcement is not just the TW energy rate, but the nanosecond-scale pulse width. This is actually pretty cool news...
    • One application of this type of engineering is to serve as an ignition swith for a fusion energy plant.

      Not really, as the ignition and heating systems for a tokomak in no way resembles the NIF (National Ignition Facility). Nor is such a system practical for a tokomak because you cannot get the spherical access required.

      The NIF, despite massive amounts of greenwash, is a tool for studying fusion for nuclear weapons - not an energy production research project.

  • Has the National Ignition Facility managed to ignite anything yet?

  • I'm thinking, mount this bad boy on a turret on an island somewhere, and use it to destroy asteroids in threat range. I'm much more inclined to do this on a turret on the ground than a satellite; although the satellite would make the weapon more effective against space-based targets, it would also allow it to be directed at points on the earth. As a laser beam can't bend, all you could do to attack terrestrial enemies with it is shoot planes/satellites out of the sky.

    • by LordStormes (1749242) on Monday July 16, 2012 @01:47PM (#40664629) Homepage Journal

      As a means to prevent malicious use of the weapon, require multiple access keys to activate it, and provide one each to the governments of the UN Security Council members. Unanimous, active participation would then be required to fire the weapon, which would only realistically be achieved due to a true threat to the entire planet.

      • by vlm (69642)

        I think you'd find the range of a UV laser in the atmosphere to be pretty depressing. Also the deployment problem is focusing.

        Its sorta like being able to set off a small pile of unconfined gunpowder in a lab vs having an actual deployment-ready cannon.

      • by Yvan256 (722131)
    • by Svartormr (692822)
      Can't aim well through an atmosphere and at useful ranges, the beam will disperse (see Gausian beam [wikipedia.org] on how the wavefront changes from planar to spherical), and there's insufficient energy delivered to significantly affect the target.
      • Even if you lost 90% of the power, you're still talking about 50 TW. That's not small change, when what you're shooting is made out of ice.

    • by wbr1 (2538558)
      A laser can bend. Ever shone a laser pointer at a mirror?
      A suffeciently engineereg targeting mirror system in orbit could aim a ground based laserand probably be cheaper. Question, how colimated (sp) is the beam, and over what range?
      • by sFurbo (1361249)
        That depends on the waist size, or smallest diameter anywhere on the beam. This is normally (a bit less than) the width of the beam at the source. If you can get a 10 m mirror, and are content to hit a 10 m target, you can shoot pretty far. Of course, the total amount of energy in this system is not tha impressive, as somebody else pointed out, it is enouh to turn 1 liter of boiling water into vapor.
    • by MiniMike (234881)

      I'm thinking, mount this bad boy on a turret on an island somewhere, and use it to destroy asteroids in threat range.

      This laser system is perfect for that use... as long as the asteroids are 2 mm in diameter, stay still long enough to focus 192 lasers on them, and are close enough that the beam path won't be distorted so much that the lasers will miss (i.e. about 1 mm).

      For the rest of the asteroids out there (~ 100%) I guess we're still screwed.

    • "I'm thinking, mount this bad boy on a turret on an island somewhere, and use it to destroy asteroids in threat range. " Given the amount of actual power involved, I'm thinking, "Mount this bad boy on a toilet somewhere, and use it to destroy hemorrhoids in threat range."

    • by tempest69 (572798)
      Nope, you place it on the dark side of the moon. makes it way harder to hit earth.
  • 'Cause it won't belong before we see a "commercial" application for something like this.

  • It still won't ignite a sustainable fusion reaction.
    • by X0563511 (793323) on Monday July 16, 2012 @02:02PM (#40664837) Homepage Journal

      By that logic, we shouldn't have useful electricity since flying kites in storms doesn't produce a sustainable current.

      • No. This more like "doing the same thing over and over again hoping it will work." The hope is that with enough power it will eventually ignite. At this point, a layman such as myself wonders what the hope:science ratio is. It has been several decades.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 16, 2012 @01:49PM (#40664649)

    Off the cuff, 500 TW divided by 1.58 MJ implies the beam lasted only a few nanoseconds. So, "To put those numbers into perspective", 500 TW is more than one thousand times the power that the entire United States uses for a few nanoseconds."

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      You find the concept "power" a bit tricky hey?

      The summary is correct. YOU are confusing power and energy.

    • by necro81 (917438) on Monday July 16, 2012 @02:19PM (#40665049) Journal

      Off the cuff, 500 TW divided by 1.58 MJ implies the beam lasted only a few nanoseconds. So, "To put those numbers into perspective", 500 TW is more than one thousand times the power that the entire United States uses for a few nanoseconds."

      Sigh...

      You are conflating power with energy. Don't feel bad: the press gets it wrong more than half the time.

      Energy is a bulk quantity: a total amount. Power is a rate: how energy over how much time. Because this is /., I'll use a car analogy: energy is analogous to how large the gas tank is (gallons, liters, etc.), power is how quickly that gas gets consumed (g/sec, mL/sec, L/100km, mpg). The average power consumption of the U.S. is a few hundred gigawatts...period. There is no gigawatts per second, or any other monstrous measure that pretends to be power, because the "per second" is already built into the Watt unit.

      Correcting your statement: 1.85 MJ is more than one thousand times the energy that the entire United States uses in a few nanoseconds The original statement comparing 500 TW to the (average) power consumption of the U.S. was correct.

      • mpg is "miles per gallon", and under certain fixed circumstances is a measure of efficiency. It is in no way a measure of power.
      • by Junta (36770)

        I think the parent understood energy/power (else he couldn't do the math to express duration). I think he phrased the last part poorly, but trying to convey that TFA is exploting a general misunderstanding of the nature of power to create a very different conceptual picture in the minds of the reader. If you took average US power consumption over a whole second during one firing of these lasers and a second where the lasers weren't fired, you wouldn't be able to make out the difference that one might intu

  • ... what the hell is an instant of time? Is it as t approaches zero?

    • by jxander (2605655)

      Actually, yes.

      Given the magnitude of the laser, compared with the total energy consumed (1.85 MJ) the laser show lasted a few hundredths of a second at best. But saying instant of time sounds more impressive than the actual numbers. Though I suppose they could have said "about as long as my last marriage" and still been in the ballpark

    • Not quite zero. Plank time.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planck_time [wikipedia.org]

      Now I have "Can't time this!" set to the music of MC Hammer in my head.

  • What does this translate to in jiggawatts?

    • by Zak3056 (69287)

      What does this translate to in jiggawatts?

      500,000. Aren't SI units wonderful?

    • Actually, "jigga" is an acceptable though rarely heard way to pronounce "giga". So your answer is 500,000. This does, however, highlight that watts are units of power and joules or watt-hours are the actual energy expenditure. If only gigawatts were necessary for the car's time travel, then one could use an arbitrarilly small amount of energy as the time expenditure approaches zero.

  • "However, though the potential national security benefits of such a powerful laser are clear...."

    All we need is a few mirror wielding satellites and the world will be our oyster!

    "Hello I am President EVIL, deposit 1 billion dollars in this swiss bank account or your capitol city will be lazered!"

  • by Jeff1946 (944062) on Monday July 16, 2012 @02:14PM (#40664965) Journal

    This is impressive, of course another way to state it would be: it delivers the energy of one laptop battery in one pulse. One must keep in mind the difference between energy and power.

  • Not much energy. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Animats (122034) on Monday July 16, 2012 @02:16PM (#40665007) Homepage

    The power is high, but there's not much total energy. 1.85 megajoules is only about half a kilowatt-hour. Energy cost about $0.10. No asteroid-melting potential here.

    The National Ignition Facility is for nuclear weapons testing. It's for studying H-bomb type events without having to detonate a nuclear weapon. It's not a prototype for energy production.

  • Record Setting 500 Trillion-Watt Laser Shot Achieved

    I once did a 180 proof jello shot.

  • ...it's like lasing a stick of dynamite
  • by Vrtigo1 (1303147) on Monday July 16, 2012 @03:09PM (#40665529)
    The 500 trillion watts thing made me think and do some math about how much power the US actually uses at any given moment. According to the EIA, in 2010 the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 11,496 kWh. So doing some math, that's only about .21 watts per second, and based on an estimated 115 million houses in the US, that's only just over 24.1 million watts per second. Of course this doesn't take into account commercial power use which is likely a lot higher, but I found it surprising that in a given second, the nation's households only consume 24.1 million watts.
  • Every week i hear a new story about advances in laser technologies, but shark related advancements (laser mounts, shark compatible targeting for lasers, and underwater shark optics) are NEVER covered.
  • by Kaenneth (82978) on Monday July 16, 2012 @04:49PM (#40666481) Homepage Journal

    Do not look into laser with remaining charred neck-stump.

  • by iiii (541004) on Monday July 16, 2012 @11:20PM (#40669077) Homepage
    Seeing a lot of discussion, but not much real information here, so I'll contribute.

    For starters, here is the website: https://lasers.llnl.gov/ [llnl.gov]

    And here is a page of that site that has some explanation about how it works: https://lasers.llnl.gov/programs/nic/icf/how_icf_works.php [llnl.gov]

    I've actually toured this facility, and it was pretty damn cool. A few points that stuck in my memory:

    The generally do one shot each night. They prep it during the day, then they all go home and it goes off at night with not many people there, because that's safer.

    The electricity usage is intense but very short, lasting only around 20 billionths of a second. They do this by charging up their capacitors and then discharging them very rapidly. They said the air conditioning for the building actually uses more power than the laser.

    They talk about the "seven wonders of NIF", which are seven advances in materials and technology that were made during the project which made it all possible. I thought the rapid crystal growing was pretty wicked. Info on them here: https://lasers.llnl.gov/about/nif/seven_wonders.php [llnl.gov]

    In the actual ignition step itself, while you might think you shine the powerful laser on the thing you want to heat up, that's actually not how it works. They have the thing they want to heat, and near it (like 1mm) is this little metallic trough thing. They blast the laser into the trough thing and when the light hits that it creates microwaves, and the microwaves heat the target. Of course by the time it's done all those parts are completely vaporized.

    Also of interest, around April this year the place was shut down for maintenance for a month. For about two weeks during that period some filming for the next Star Trek movie took place inside the NIF facility. So check out the pix and see if you can spot the NIF scenes when the movie comes out. It does kinda look like the engine room of a starship: https://lasers.llnl.gov/multimedia/photo_gallery/target_area/?id=5&category=target_area [llnl.gov] Obviously, the whole lab is full of nerds who like Star Trek, but they were not allowed to see what was going on.

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