July 16, 2012 at 12:37 PM ET
It may not be a frickin’ shark with a frickin’ laser beam attached to its head, but government scientists at the National Ignition Facility in California have fired the most powerful laser shot ever recorded.
The shot with the 192 laser beam system delivered more than 500 trillion watts of peak power and 1.85 megajoules of ultraviolet laser light to its target, measuring 2 millimeters in diameter.
That’s 1,000 times more power than the United States uses at any instant in time and 100 times more energy than any other laser regularly produces today.
The feat, according to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is a critical requirement for igniting hydrogen fusion fuel, a long-sought source of “safe, secure, environmentally sustainable energy.”
Ultimately, the scientists aim to use the laser beams to ignite nuclear fusion, which will generate 10 to 100 times more energy than deposited by the laser beams. The the National Ignition Facility itself will not be used to generate electricity, but the experiments there are a step towards demonstrating the technology's feasibility.
The target hit on the July 5 experiment was a depleted uranium capsule containing a mixture of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium. While it didn't ignite, "the result demonstrates that the laser conditions required to achieve ignition are within reach," according to optics.org.
When ignition will occur is unknown, though the facility aims to hit that milestone by the end of 2012.