U.S. Government Scientists Build Colossal Nuclear Fusion Plasma Gun Due to Launch in 2020
Now that we have your attention, the Plasma Liner Experiment (PLX) is nearing completion at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, according to reports from Phys.Org. It is part of an ongoing crusade to generate controlled nuclear fusion and, presumably, lay waste to our enemies once the Space Force really takes off.
The Los Alamos National Laboratory just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is an extension of the United States Department of Energy and was originally conceived during World War II to design nuclear weapons for the Manhattan Project.
In layman's terms, the PLX looks like the business end of a medieval morning star (or the classic Minesweeper icon). The weapon boasts thirty-six plasma guns, eighteen of which have already been installed. These guns shoot "supersonic jets of ionized gas" to a central interior fuel source inside the sphere that then becomes the nuclear fusion fuel source.
There are two ways to whip up nuclear energy: nuclear fission and nuclear fusion. Nuclear fission is created by atoms splitting apart – when high-speed neutrons collide with unstable isotopes, it splits large heavy isotopes into smaller particles much like a break shot in pool. This releases a ton of energy and is the type of nuclear energy used in reactors and power plants.
Nuclear fusion, on the other hand, is like Kanye West – it can't be managed. This is the same type of reaction that powers our Sun and every other star in the Universe. The process to achieve nuclear fusion is essentially the opposite of nuclear fission. Instead of breaking atoms apart, you smash them together under extreme heat and pressure. Nuclear fusion has remained an elusive Holy Grail because, although it produces far less radioactive waste and produces a limitless supply of energy, we have no idea how to contain it on Earth (what would you do with the radioactive fury of a tiny Sun in your basement?).
Nuclear fusion requires what's called "confinement," which is how scientists calibrate the temperatures and pressures that foster fusion. There are two types of confinement: magnetic and inertial. Magnetic confinement uses, as you might expect, a powerful magnet (and electricity) to generate heat and pressure. Inertial confinement uses laser beams to accomplish the same goal. The PLX employs aspects of both techniques, and scientists hope it might be a cheaper and easier long-term solution. First, the plasma is magnetized. This conserves heat and keeps atomic particles from going astray. Then, instead of using lasers, those "supersonic jets of ionized gas" are fired into the fuel source to further intensify the high heat and pressure.
Much like the Death Star, just because the PLX is incomplete doesn't mean it isn't operational. Until the PLX reaches its final form scientists are still using it for other experiments. Dr. Tom Byvank of the Experimental Physics Group at the Los Alamos National Laboratory is using it to study colliding plasma. (Which we're sure is a flimsy excuse to play with ray-guns all day, and can you blame him?)
Construction will continue throughout the next year. According to Dr. Samuel Langendorf, the lead scientist on the project and a member of the lab's Experimental Physics Group, "We hope to complete the installation of the remaining eighteen guns in early 2020 and to be conducting fully spherical experiments by the end of 2020."