Japanese Scientists fire world’s most powerful laser to produce energy equal to 1,000 times the planet's power consumption

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Researchers in Japan have made a new record for the most powerful laser ever fired, creating a 2 petawatt pulse - that’s 2 quadrillion watts - using a device called the Laser for Fast Ignition Experiment (LFEX). While they could only hold it for a mere one-trillionth of a second, the group says that it had a concentrated energy equivalent of 1,000 times the world's electricity intake. Situated at Osaka University, the LFEX laser projector is about 100 metres in length, and combines four cautiously positioned glass 'lamps' to intensify a laser beam over and over as it travels along the length of the device. This set-up permitted the team to create an extremely intense amount of power while consuming only two hundred joules of energy, which is about as much power your microwave uses in just 2 seconds.
Image Credit: Juergen Faelchle/Shutterstock.com

So the question is, is this awesome?  Well certainly it is, but it’s not going to be firing down satellites or destroying planets Death Star-style any time soon. While earlier this year Lockheed Martin was succeeded in burning a hole through a car 1.6 km down the road by means of a simple 30-kilowatt laser, and German firm MBDA Deutschland apparently knocked drones out of the sky from 3 kilometres away with a 40-kilowatt laser, Japan’s LFEX ray couldn’t even come close to all this. The Texas Petawatt Laser is the only equivalent device in the world right now, capable of creating a 1 petawatt laser pulse. So why is it that a 30-kilowatt laser fired over more than a kilometre can do so much destruction when a 2 petawatt discharge can’t even make it into space? Michael Donovan, the assistant director of Texas Petawatt Laser program in the US, told Patrick Tucker at Defence One "Turns out that petawatt lasers only work in a vacuum, because they ionize the air that they come in contact with. That’s the difference between a 'high-energy laser' of the military variety versus a 'peak power laser', like the one in Osaka."

It hasn’t got people linking the LFEX laser to the Death Star super-weapon in the Star Wars universe. We’re going to need a whole lot more power to destroy a planet the size of Alderaan. As Matt Springer clarifies at his blog, Built on Facts, if we’re using Earth as an example, a laser dominant enough to blow it up would have to generate around 2.2 x 1032 joules of energy.

When we compare 2.2 x 1032 joules of energy with the two hundred joules being generated by LFEX right now, I think it’s okay to say the Death Star will be trapped in science fiction for a while yet.
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