Monday, September 24, 2007

The Z-Machine

This is the Z-machine at Sandia National Laboratories. (Click on the image to see it in its full glory). During the fraction of a second in which it operates, it discharges 80 times the entire world's electrical power output. Designed to study nuclear fusion using a so-called Z-pinch technique, the Z-machine releases an electromagnetic pulse, which creates this coruscating pattern of electrical discharges in the exterior laboratory.

7 comments:

Doug Hudson said...

Looks like a screenshot from HalfLife to me...

Gordon McCabe said...

:-) Indeed. Some vituperative demon will, no doubt, appear in the pit as the coruscations subside.

Neil Forsyth said...

How can they generate that amount of electricity, even if only for a fraction of a second? Now, remember, Gordon, I'm a normal bloke who (believe it or not) had to get a neighbour in to tighten a screw this evening. To be fair, I wasn't sure tightening the screw would solve the problem so I didn't try. Best to leave these things to the experts.

Art Durkee said...

Who said science never produced beauty?

Of course, the SOHO satellite has prouced astounding images of great beauty for almost ten years now.

Gordon McCabe said...

It's fusion-powered, Neil, which is difficult to control for more than short time-periods.

They create a plasma, a state of matter in which the electrons are stripped from the nuclei of their atoms. A plasma is an electrical conductor, so they then apply a changing magnetic field to the plasma. This produces a current in the plasma, and this current generates a magnetic field of its own. The two magnetic fields react against each other, according to something called Lenz's law. The device applying the external magnetic field is fixed, so the plasma is forced to implode. The X-rays created by the imploding plasma trigger fusion.

Gordon McCabe said...

Indeed, Art. Although those astronomical images get a good deal of post-processing applied to them before they get released to the media!

Robert said...

There is another fusion machine which concept is much more efficient: http://www.crossfirefusor.com/nuclear-fusion-reactor/overview.html