We've just come one step closer to a fully-operational Death Star.
Scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have fired the most powerful laser shot in the history of the world, setting the record with 1.875 MJ of energy. The historic March 15 firing was just 23 billionths of a second long, but generated 411 trillion watts of peak power.
That's 1,000 times more than the entire United States uses at any given instant, according to a media release from the laboratory.
But the record power didn't stop at 1.875 MJ. According to the lab's media release, the energy produced by NIF actually hit 2.03 MJ before reaching the final chamber, making the ultraviolet laser the world's first to achieve 2 MJ of energy and 100 times more powerful than any similar laser currently in operation.
“It’s a remarkable demonstration of the laser from the standpoint of its energy, its precision, its power, and its availability,” NIF Director Ed Moses told Nature.
The shot not only surpassed the world record, but beat the lab's expectations.
According to Nature, the test chamber was only designed for a 1.8 MJ output. Despite the high output, the experiment also did less damage to the laser optics system than expected, allowing the team to perform a second firing just 36 hours later.
The incredible power generated is working towards more than simply the greatest laser pointer of all time, but it isn't intended for military purposes either. Sorry, Star Wars fans. Instead, the NIF is attempting to ignite a fusion reaction, which would be a first for mankind.
In this round of testing, the laser wasn't aimed at a specific target -- which would be required in any attempt to create a fusion reaction -- though that is the eventual goal.
Prior to this test, the NIF was only able to create aproximately 1.6 MJ of energy, though now that they've surpassed their goal of 1.8 MJ, the process for achieving fusion may be reevaluated.
Moses declined to say when he will test the 1.875-megajoule capability on a target, but he says that the extra energy will allow more leeway in target designs.
Of course, the paving the way toward fusion isn't the only scientific use for lasers these days, and different experiments could mean the NIF's record won't last long.
According to the Telegraph, the Extreme Light Infrastructure Ultra-High Field Facility, the construction location of which is still being bid on by a number of European countries, aims to create a laser with enough power to "rip the fabric of space" and discover the inner workings of the universe.
In June 1999, after careful preparation, a rotating crane hoisted the target chamber and gently moved it to the Target Bay, a breathtaking event that took only about 30 minutes. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
The target chamber under construction. Holes in the target chamber provide access for the laser beams and viewing ports for NIF diagnostic equipment. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
After the target chamber was lowered into place, the seven-story walls and roof of the Target Bay were completed. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
This view from the bottom of the chamber shows the target positioner being inserted. Pulses from NIF's high-powered lasers race toward the Target Bay at the speed of light. They arrive at the center of the target chamber within a few trillionths of a second of each other, aligned to the accuracy of the diameter of a human hair. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Before each experiment, a positioner precisely centers the target inside the target chamber and serves as a reference to align the laser beams. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
A NIF target contains a polished capsule about two millimeters in diameter, filled with cryogenic (super-cooled) hydrogen fuel. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
A service system lift allows technicians to access the target chamber interior for inspection and maintenance Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
A new viewing window recently installed on the NIF Target Chamber will allow members of the NIF team and visitors to see inside the chamber while it is vacuum-sealed for experiments. Installation of the viewing window was one of the many tasks performed by the NIF team during the spring 2011 facility maintenance and reconfiguration (FMR) period. During the FMR period, new diagnostic capabilities were added, controls system software was updated, and laser performance improvements were implemented. In the photo, NIF Team members Bruno Van Wonterghem (left), Jim Nally (pointing) and Rod Saunders watch through the viewing window as the Final Optics Damage Inspection System is deployed. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
NIF's millimeter-sized targets must be designed and fabricated to meet precise specifications for density, concentricity and surface smoothness for NIF experiments. LLNL scientists and engineers like Richard Montesanti (pictured) have developed a precision robotic assembly machine to manufacture the small and complex fusion ignition targets. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory