Curiosity ‘investigated’ a rock on Mars on the weekend. And by ‘investigated’ they mean vapourised into an ‘ionised, glowing plasma’ using energy so extreme the numbers seem almost silly:
“ChemCam hit Coronation with 30 pulses of its laser during a 10-second period. Each pulse delivered more than a million watts of power for about five one-billionths of a second.” – NASA
Oh, yes, they call this a ‘camera’…
The reason being the light from the glowing plasma can be analysed by spectrometers to determine what elements the sample consists of. So, in an oversimplified way, it’s a bit like a science fiction scanner. Albeit less like this scanner:
And a little more like this one:
OK, slightly less messy, but at least as potentially destructive.
Bear in mind that the laser on Curiosity is extremely portable. Obviously able to be vehicle-mounted. Potentially hand-held… Certainly able to be attached to the walls of a mountaintop lair, or incorporated into some sort of powersuit…
Lasers are, let’s face it, awesome.
Did you know that with the most powerful lasers on the planet – (Curiosity’s is a pipsqueak in comparison) one of the biggest challenges is engineering laser componentry that can withstand the energy of the laser beam it generates? I didn’t…
What is the most powerful laser on the planet? Right now it appears to be the one at National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore . This thing combines the energy of 192 separate laser generators into a 23-nanosecond shot that this July was measured at 500+ terawatts .
Put it this way, the average bolt of lightning peaks at 1 terawatt.
And ‘Ignition’ in the name? The eventual purpose of the laser is to ignite nuclear fusion, or, in other words, to be the starter motor for a miniature star here on Earth.
But the Europeans want to top that. The proposed Extreme Light Infrastructure Ultra-High Field Facility (which as far as names go, is frankly trying a bit hard…) will be designed to produce 200 petawatts.
Comparison: this is 100 000 times as much energy as the entirety of humanity is producing at any given moment, focussed on a single point, for less than a trillionth of a second.
This is not for kickstarting stars. This is for “boiling the very fabric of space“.
Nothing to worry about there…