History's brightest laser blast has been achieved at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab - but it was so brief that it "wouldn't heat a cup of coffee."
A laser pulse equal to at least 100 trillion watts, or 100 terawatts, was fired at the nuclear weapons lab Monday, perhaps inaugurating "a new age in laser research," lab officials said. The pulse lasted a half-trillionth of a second.In that moment, the laser consumed 250 times as much energy as the entire U.S. electrical grid does over the same period, Livermore laser chief Mike Campbell said.
The laser shot was fired using one of the 10 "beams" of the lab's decade-old Nova laser, which is located in a three-story building on the Livermore site. The shot lasted one-three-thousandths as long as a typical Nova shot.
Scientists hope the achievement will lead to an even more powerful laser - the $10 million "petawatt" laser - late this year. This would be 10 to 20 times more powerful than the 100-terawatt laser.
The terawatt laser's ability to pack so much energy into so little time makes it ideal for investigating subatomic phenomena that occur at high speeds and tem-per-a-tures. For example, the laser could be used to mimic the behavior of high-speed electrons inside stars.
The laser could also pick apart puzzles that have stalled development of nuclear "fusion," a hypothetical source of super-energy.