According to the University of Texas at Austin in a very short news release, the most powerful laser in the world fired up last week. The researchers said that this laser is 2,000 times more powerful than all power plants in the United States. But, as in previous experiments with powerful lasers, this power lasts only for a very short period of time, a 10th of a trillionth of a second in this case -- or 0.0000000000001 second. The physicists added that this laser 'is brighter than sunlight on the surface of the Sun.' They also said that is the only operating petawatt laser in the United States. But they forgot to say that a system installed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory broke the petawatt peak power barrier back in 1996. But read more...
You can see above a diagram describing the optical design of the Texas petawatt laser. (Credit: University of Texas at Austin). Here is a link to a larger version of this diagram.
This project has been led by Todd Ditmire, professor of physics and director of the Texas High Intensity Laser Science Group. You'll find more details by visiting the official site of the Texas Petawatt Laser. In particular, you'll find several pictures in this photo gallery.
Now, how could be the usages for such a powerful laser? Here is the researchers' answer. "Ditmire and his colleagues at the Texas Center for High-Intensity Laser Science will use the laser to create and study matter at some of the most extreme conditions in the universe, including gases at temperatures greater than those in the sun and solids at pressures of many billions of atmospheres. This will allow them to explore many astronomical phenomena in miniature. They will create mini-supernovas, tabletop stars and very high-density plasmas that mimic exotic stellar objects known as brown dwarfs."
I'm sure this petawatt laser will be useful for science. I just regret that the researchers did not mention the first petawat laser which achieved petawatt peak power on May 23, 1996 at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and which worked for three years before being decommissioned. For more information about this old project, you can read "Crossing the petawatt threshold," published in 1996, or "The amazing power of the petawatt," published in 2000.
Sources: University of Texas at Austin news release, April 8, 2008; and various websites
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