Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory fired 192 lasers beams inside the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in the US. The infrared lasers were concentrated into a single beam of ultraviolet energy that topped out at 2.03 megajoules, making it the most powerful laser in history, as well as the world’s first two-megajoule ultraviolet laser.
The chamber was only designed for a 1.8-megajoule laser, which trounced the previous world-record 1.6-megajoule laser. The focused beam, however, managed to reach an initial 1.875 megajoules and went past the 2-million joules of energy marker after passing through the final focusing lens.
(The interior of the NIF target chamber. The service module carrying technicians can be seen on the left. The target positioner, which holds the target, is on the right. Photo courtesy of NIF)
Although the laser shot exceeded the scientists’ expectations, it did relatively little damage to the NIF’s laser optics. The scientists fired a second shot 36 hours after the world-record moment, and the laser will eventually be able to fire 15 times per second.
The whole point of this super-powerful laser is to produce a nuclear fusion reaction by imploding a small hydrogen isotope. Yes, you read that right - nuclear fusion, as in the same energy-producing reaction that occurs in our Sun.
Later this year, the scientists will actually fire the lasers at a target hydrogen fuel the NIF chamber was designed for.