Temperature Conditions of a Supernova Recreated in UK Laboratory

Scientists are one step closer to attaining the ultimate goal: producing temperatures high enough to sustain fusion, the reaction that powers our Sun and the possible future for global energy production. Researchers at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, UK, have attained temperatures higher than the surface of the Sun, 10 million Kelvin (or Celsius), by using a powerful one petawatt laser called Vulcan. This experiment goes beyond the quest for fusion power; generating these high temperatures recreates the conditions of cosmological events such as supernova explosions, and astronomical bodies like white dwarfs and neutron star atmospheres…

This is some awesome research. An international collaboration of researchers from the UK, Europe, Japan and the US have succeeded in harnessing an equivalent of 100 times the world energy production into a tiny spot, measuring a fraction of the width of a human hair. That’s a whopping one petawatt of energy (one thousand million million watts, or enough to power ten trillion 100W light bulbs) focused on a volume measuring about 0.000009 metres (9µm) across (I took the value of the diameter of a human hair to be 90µm, as measured by Piezo Technology, in case you were interested). This is a vast improvement on previous tests, where the volume heated measured 20 times smaller than this new experiment. This feat was achieved through the use of Rutherford Appleton’s Vulcan laser.

The petawatt laser was able to attain this vast power by delivering a very short-period pulse onto the target. After all, the planet didn’t experience a black out as the laser was switched on, the laser is able to amplify the amount of power available by focusing on a microscopic volume for a short period of time. Vulcan blasted its target with the one petawatt laser beam for a mere 1 picosecond (one millionth of a millionth of a second). This may seem miniscule, but this microscopic period of time allowed the target material to be heated to the 10 million Kelvin.

These tests not only allow scientists to study what happens when matter is heated to such extremes, it also paves the way to more powerful lasers fusing the nuclei of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium. Self-sustaining nuclear fusion may then be possible, unlocking a gateway into a huge source of energy. It is conceivable that a future fusion reactor will use a powerful, focused laser to start fusion events, allowing the energy produced by each reaction to power the next. This is the basis of self-sustaining nuclear fusion.

This is an exciting development – we now have a new tool with which to study really hot, dense matter” – Prof. Peter Norreys, STFC funded researcher and Vulcan scientist.

The Vulcan has some stiff competition though. In the US, the Texas Petawatt laser broke the record for most powerful laser a few days ago, reaching energies in excess of one petawatt. But plans for a bigger UK laser, the Hiper (High Power laser Energy Research), will be even more powerful and is intended to investigate fusion power.

Source: Telegraph

24 Replies to “Temperature Conditions of a Supernova Recreated in UK Laboratory”

  1. Wow, so now we are able to produce a supernova? This is so taken out of sci-fi movies, I can’t wait to see the video recording of a supernova on earth.

  2. Ummm, being hotter than the *surface* of the Sun is not difficult, since it’s only 5770 K. I assume you meant the *core*.

    I enjoy reading your articles and listening to the astronomycasts. Keep it up.

  3. Thanks to everyone with their corrections. Some stories are put out in a rush, so some typos are possible.

    However, I do take a dislike to comments like “Sheesh, science writers. Maybe they could learn some science and math.” – I can assure you this is not a problem for me. My problem is typing too quickly late at night.


  4. One million milionths of a second would be one second, wouldn’t it?
    Did you perhaps mean a millionth of a millionth of a second?

  5. Does Mr. Spock know we’re using his laser? It’s always better to ask before blowdrying one’s hair to a supernova. I almost made sense there.

  6. To nitpick even further:

    10 million K is 2/3 the solar core temp.

    Solar core ~ 15 million K

  7. To nitpick even further ……. “0.0009 metres (9µm) across” should actually be 0.9µm. The results are exciting nonetheless 🙂

  8. That’s truly wonderful. Suistainable fusion would change everything. Goodbye oil and goodbye global warming. Woho!

  9. I wonder if they put a warning sticker on the thing just in case anyone was stupid enough to touch it & then try to sue them?

  10. Thank you Astrofiend for your support. All the writers on UT do this because we enjoy it, plus we all think that reaching out to readers in this informal manner is actually better than many of the mainstream media sources. Fraser gives us a lot of freedom to write on topics of our choosing and I think his model is going from strength to strength.

    I do admit though to occasional silly typos, but that is usually down to my haste to bring breaking news to UT. I think it’s great to have feedback from our readers where the readers actually have a strong influence over the accuracy of our writing and choice of topic (feel free to send messages with suggested stories we may have missed).

    But Astrofiend is right, if you see an error, don’t flame the writer, just send a polite memo that something may not be quite right. We all have a strong background in space writing, research and public outreach, any errors that may crop up are purely accidental and not a lack of knowledge.

    Cheers 🙂


  11. A further nit-pick, you said:
    “This is a vast improvement on previous tests, where the volume heated measured 20 times less than this new experiment.”

    One time less is zero. Subtraction is not multiplicative, it is divisive. Twenty times less enters (rather far) into negative numbers.
    Sheesh, science writers. Maybe they could learn some science and math.

  12. Cybe R. Wizard Says:
    May 30th, 2008 at 3:30 am

    “Sheesh, science writers. Maybe they could learn some science and math.”

    Sheesh Cybe R. Wizard, maybe you could learn to interpret the meaning of a sentence from its context and not be such a pedantic whiner.

    Not two days ago I wrote, in reference to a completely different situation, “F-M-D; the people that write these articles keep doing so for God-knows-what-reason. Half of what they write is lambasted by morons with an axe to grind, and yet they continue to churn out quality stories anyway which we should all be grateful for.”

    … and once again it is thoroughly applicable. I’m sure the writers at UT don’t find factual corrections, but personal attacks over grammatical error where the true meaning was glaringly obvious anyway? What a joke.

  13. But isn’t heat the result of the gravitic pressure at the centre of the sun? So skip the pressure and just go for the heat. Can’t fake the gravity of the sun so lets do a work-around. Compacting fuel (hydrogen?) could be done using sound, magnetic pulses and if you have the heat, then boom…fusion. Or…hopefully not …um…an actual “boom”. (:

  14. alokmohan:
    No there doesn’t. We are talking from a temperature aspect, scientists have reproduced temperatures comparable with the spectral observations of the remnants of a supernova. This laser should also have some nice fusion applications, but there is no confusion about the differentiation between fusion and supernovae. I hope that clears things up a bit.

    Cheers, Ian 🙂

  15. Love the article, these are very interesting times. When we can get to temperatures of about 1 billion degrees C, thats when we can get a proton-Boron11 reaction to take place. Totally clean nuclear power – Cool! (Have look at ‘focus fusion’)

    Hydrogen, deuterium and tritium? Doesn’t this leave a neutron behind? Not sure.

    Fab article!
    Keep up the good work!

  16. “…twenty times smaller.” is no better than, “…twenty times less.” Neither has any meaning in math. Perhaps you really don’t /want/ to be clearly understood? Try, “…one twentieth the “size.

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