World's Most Powerful Laser Ready For Its Close-Up

Rest of Solar System being put on notice

By Bob Redell
|  Friday, May 29, 2009  |  Updated 11:47 AM CDT
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Meet the World's Most Powerful Laser

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A look inside of the Lawrence Livermore Lab's laser.

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Meet the World's Most Powerful Laser

Livermore Lab is now home to the world's most expensive and most powerful laser, designed to research the origins of the universe and help pave the way for the future use of fusion energy
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Finally a "laser" Austin Powers can truly brag about.  

After 10 years of construction and $3.5 billion, the world’s most powerful laser is being dedicated at the Lawrence Livermore Lab

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other dignitaries are expected to attend by the way.

The National Ignition Facility, NIF as it’s called, is made up of 192 separate laser beams that are housed in a facility the size of a football field. They're designed to fire within a few trillionths of a second of each other at a frozen capsule of hydrogen the size of a pencil eraser. 

Physicists hope to eventually ramp up its power to 500 trillion watts, which is 500 times the amount of electricity generated by the United States’ power grid during peak operation. 

With that kind of power, the hope is they’ll be able to achieve “fusion ignition.”  Scientists theorize that the fusion of hydrogen atoms could someday provide an unlimited source of energy with no carbon emissions. 

The plan is to attempt hydrogen fusion sometime next year.

NIF will also be used to ensure the reliability of the nation’s nuclear stockpile without underground testing and will let astrophysicists mimic the conditions inside planets. 

Critics complain that the $140 million a year operating cost is too much given the economic slump we’re in.  And they wonder aloud if hydrogen fusion is even possible.

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