Worlds most powerful laser to simulate conditions at centre of the Earth

January 6th, 2009 - 5:12 pm ICT by ANI  

London, Jan 6 (ANI): Scientists at the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, US, are preparing to fire the most powerful laser in history at a tiny target on the ground, in order to understand what conditions are like at the centre of the Earth.

According to a report in the Telegraph, the laser, which is as powerful as 10 billion lightbulbs, would alter the composition of the soil sample, making it represent the conditions at the core of the planet.

The colossal new experiment, at a cost of about 1.8 billion dollars, will focus the worlds most powerful laser on to a spot little bigger than a pinhead, recreating for the briefest of instants the conditions found at the centre of planets, and even stars.

The ultimate goal at Livermore is to trigger nuclear fusion, the reaction that drives the sun, as a step towards the creation of fusion power stations, which could provide almost limitless amounts of clean energy.

In the meantime, however, scientists are hoping to use the phenomenal power of the laser to simulate the interior of planets.

They can do this by carefully focusing the pulse of intense light, which concentrates energy equivalent to 1,000 times the amount produced by Americas national grid.

Using this astonishingly precise laser beam, the researchers will be able to compress material to pressures more than 25 million times those found at sea level.

The facility is the size of three football pitches, in which the 500 trillion watt laser beam travels through almost a mile of lenses, mirrors and amplifiers.

It is then split into 192 separate beams, which are focused on the centre of a 10-metre-wide reaction chamber coated in aluminum and concrete.

Inside the chamber, sits the target a sample of fluids designed to mimic the make-up of the particular planet being studied. This is held within a gold capsule that generates high-energy X-rays when the laser beams hit it.

These compress the target, creating pressures equivalent to those found at the centre of heavenly bodies.

It is at these pressures that something quite exotic starts to happen, with the behaviour of even simple elements becoming highly unpredictable.

According to Bruce Remington, a physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where the National Ignition Facility is based, At the high density and huge pressures we are talking about, matter starts to behave in strange ways. Using the laser, we can simulate these pressures from the surface right down to the centre.

By altering the component fluids, scientists in Livermore believe they will be able to simulate the centre of almost any planet. (ANI)

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