Million-Watt Nuclear-Powered Laser Blast Creates Most Exciting Blog Title to Date…


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…

The Alan Parsons Project




2 thoughts on “Million-Watt Nuclear-Powered Laser Blast Creates Most Exciting Blog Title to Date…

  1. Cool stuff, but I have to call you out on your lighting terrawatt figures, everyone knows a bolt of lighting is only 1.21gigawatts.

    • That is a good call, my friend.

      My clumsy-google-based science response is that the terawatt figure is the peak power output of the lightning bolt as a whole – most of that energy is disappated by, y’know, carving a path through the sky towards the earth and creating a dog-freaking, hill-bouncing soundwave.

      By the time it hits the ground – or the flux capacitor of a modified DeLorean – it _delivers_ something more in the order of 1.21 gigawatts.

      Also – thank you for being the very first commenter on my blog.
      I’m afraid I have no prize.

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