Super Laser Could Output More Power than All Human Civilization

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What do you get when you spend $1.2 billion on triple laser laboratories in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania? Try: The building blocks for a mind-boggling super laser that’s almost “didn’t I see that in a Keanu Reeves flick?” powerful.

How much power are we talking? Probably not enough, say, to take out a planet with one ominous electric-green burst, but how about twice the total power output of all human civilization?

Czech Position reports the European Commission just green-lit funding to spend about $400 million a piece on three “dedicated ultrafast laser laboratories” in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania. It’s called the Extreme Light Infrastructure project, and it will itself yield lasers more powerful than anything the world’s yet seen.

Some comparison figures: The world’s most powerful operational laser fires at 1.1 petawatts, or 1.1 x 1015 watts–that’s a 10 with 15 zeroes after it (a drop in the bucket next to the super laser). The new lasers designed as part of the ELI project will fire at 10 petawatts each (though still paddling in the kiddie pool, power-wise). The total power received by the Earth from the sun is a whopping 174 petawatts (getting closer, but still shy of the mark).

The total power of the super-laser? Try a staggering 200 petawatts, equivalent to twice the estimated power output of a Type I Kardashev scale civilization (a Type I civilization, at between 10 and 100 petawatts, has mastered the resources of its home planet, a Type II of its solar system, and a Type III of its galaxy).

What’s the point of all that concentrated power? The possibilities are manifold and include both scientific and medical research, but it sounds like project coordinator Gerard Mourou hopes it might be enough to “trigger the breakdown of the vacuum, the fabric of space-time itself.”

Sounds appropriately awe-inspiring (and perhaps a trifle terrifying). Just as long as it’s not making any of those more-than-short-lived micro black holes.

(via New Scientist)