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World's most powerful X-ray laser recreates conditions at the center of a star

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January 30, 2012

SLAC's LCLS is the world's most powerful X-ray laser (Photo: University of Oxford/Sam Vink...

SLAC's LCLS is the world's most powerful X-ray laser (Photo: University of Oxford/Sam Vinko)

To say things are really heating up at the US Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory isn't just a bad pun, it's one hell (sorry) of an understatement. An Oxford-led team used the Stanford-based facility that houses the world's most powerful X-ray laser to create and probe a 2-million-degree Celsius (or about 3.6 million degrees Fahrenheit) piece of matter. The experiment allowed the scientists the closest look yet at what conditions might be like in the heart of the Sun, other stars and planets.

"Making extremely hot, dense matter is important scientifically if we are ultimately to understand the conditions that exist inside stars and at the center of giant planets within our own solar system and beyond," explained University of Oxford lead author Sam Vinko.

The research was recently published in the journal Nature and was conducted using SLAC's Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), which is capable of firing laser pulses a billion times brighter than any other X-ray source around today.

The scientists didn't just create a tiny faux star in a lab out of thin air, though - the LCLS' pulses were directed at a minuscule piece of aluminum foil to create a solid plasma referred to as "hot dense matter."

If you're sitting in your kitchen eyeing that box of aluminum foil sitting next to your microwave, don't get any big ideas about creating a mini-star in the comfort of your own home. Your appliances aren't quite on par with what they've got in-house at SLAC.

"The LCLS, with its ultra-short wavelengths of X-ray laser light, is the first that can penetrate a dense solid and create a uniform patch of plasma - in this case a cube one-thousandth of a centimeter on a side - and probe it at the same time," says Bob Nagler, an LCLS instrument scientist at SLAC.

Nagler explains that it's been possible for a while to create plasma from gases and study it with conventional lasers, but LCLS is the first tool that can do the same with a solid. In fact, the same issue of Nature also reports that the LCLS is the world's first atomic X-ray laser providing "a penetrating view into the world of atoms and molecules," according to physicist Nina Rohringer who worked on the project at SLAC.

The resulting measurements scientists gain from creating and examining super-hot matter will be plugged into different theories and computer simulations, and could even help recreate the nuclear fusion process that powers stars.

"Those 60 hours when we first aimed the LCLS at a solid were the most exciting 60 hours of my entire scientific career," said Justin Wark, leader of the Oxford group. "LCLS is really going to revolutionize the field, in my view."

About the Author
Eric Mack Eric Mack has been covering technology and the world since the late 1990s. As well as being a Gizmag regular, he currently contributes to CNET, NPR and other outlets.   All articles by Eric Mack
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3 Comments

? How long until it is Miniaturized and made into a Military Weapon? Would be very deadly if launched in to earths lower atmosphere with some sort of spy technology or made into a carry around weapon. No More Need for Ammunition! This technology is starting to become very BOND 007, (like) !

Scott Bailey
31st January, 2012 @ 04:56 pm PST

re; Scott Bailey

A man killing phased array diode laser will fit in a shoe box with room to spare. This is pure science but it might help develop practical fusion power.

Slowburn
31st January, 2012 @ 08:58 pm PST

I've already done this in my lab here in Florida. The center of our Sun is ice cold. The heating of the Sun or any star is caused by graviton particles.

As for the answer they are seeking about the universe, I've already found them and more.

The idea for using a laser to trigger a fusion reaction, is the fusion reaction in a hydrogen warhead is triggered by an atomic device that creates heat and pressure.

They hope that by exposing, say hydrogen, to the laser heat, they can trigger a fusion reaction of two hydrogen atoms fusing together into one Helium atom and create a slow chain reaction resulting in a sustained heat source. This of course is in accord with Einstein's E = mc^2, but where this gets interesting is that Einstein's equation is also E/m = c^2, and E/c^2 = m and what you can do with these is incredible....Alfred-

Alfred Schrader
23rd March, 2012 @ 05:55 pm PDT
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