New 200-terawatt laser can recreate the power of a star’s core

7 Oct 2015

Using a new, high-powered 200-terawatt laser, researchers at the US SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory will be able to recreate the universe’s most extreme conditions, including those found at the heart of a star.

The 200-terawatt laser was completed following an upgrade to the high-powered laser already in place at the lab, and has been paired with SLAC‘s X-ray laser, the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS).

The numerical terms that SLAC is suggesting the LCLS can operate at are quite staggering, with the laser able to precisely measure extreme forms of matter created by high-power pulses.

At the upper reaches of its power, the laser can reach temperatures of millions of degrees and pressures approaching 2bn tonnes per square inch – the equivalent of about 300bn-times the pressure at sea level.

At its peak of 200-terawatts, this new laser has increased its previous peak wattage several times over, and, incredibly, is the equivalent of about 100 times the world’s total power consumption compressed into tens of ‘femtoseconds’, or quadrillionths of a second.

200 terawatt laser body

The integral crystal of the laser. Image via SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

Can be doubled in power

Even with the combined power of the 150 laser systems set up at the lab, they could not come close to the power of this new laser.

With this amount of pure energy at their fingertips, the lab says that the upgraded laser could help us better understand the physics of nuclear fusion, which could one day produce vast quantities of energy cheaply and cleanly.

Researchers also suggest that the laser’s pulses could be used to explore dense plasmas reminiscent of stars like our own sun.

Eduardo Granados, a laser scientist at SLAC who oversaw the upgrade, said, “This will give us more insight into the processes at work, from the atomic to electronic states”.

SLAC say this won’t be the final upgrade to the laser, confirming that the system can be upgraded further to 300 terawatts, or even as far as 400 terawatts.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic