Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Power of the Sun

The picture left represents inertial confinement fusion which uses 192 laser beams focused through holes in a target container called a hohlraum. Inside the hohlraum is a tiny pellet containing an extremely cold, solid mixture of hydrogen isotopes. When lasers strike the hohlraum's walls X-rays are produced that strip material from the outer shell of the isotope fuel pellet, heating it up to millions of degrees. If the compression of the fuel pellet is high enough and uniform enough, nuclear fusion can result. That moment is called "ignition" - effectively a carefully controlled thermonuclear explosion - the energy produced in stars like our Sun. If this were to happen and the energy produced was greater than the energy put in, that would be a momentous event in human history, controlled nuclear fusion.
That's the goal at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory National Ignition Facility (Nif) in California and the most recent test results look promising. Scientists at the Nif think that ignition "might" just happen this year and that would make the over 50 year search for fusion power within reach. That would change everything!


  1. This is an exciting development and the first ignition is supposed to happen later this year.

    Curious. This is a '.GOV' website and the research is heavily funded by government. In a libertarian world, would research like this get funded?

  2. Yes ".gov" - not libertarian alas. I am trying to change the world from the way it is now, and I'm afraid governments who have access to seemingly unlimited funds are the only organizations that can/will back stop this kind of research. Would this have happened in a libertarian world? I doubt it - but I also admire the work of NASA, past and present. Even NASA will soon have to resort to private space faring corporations as funding dries up under Obama. Not a bad thing, by any means.