These cool images are a bit reminiscent of snowflakes, right? Not quite. Think warmer…much, much warmer.
Stars are the grandmasters of energy generation. Inside the hot, gravity-crunched heart of the sun, atoms fuse together and unleash tremendous amounts of energy. The sunlight that illuminates and warms our planet after a 93-million-mile journey is the direct product of fusion. Fusion is an incredible source of energy, and it’s one that our scientists are learning more about, but it’s tough to study in a lab. (All that heat would melt things, including the ground.)
So how can an earthbound laboratory replicate a stellar-scale furnace? These colorful starbursts are actually computer simulations that map out one potential source of terrestrial fusion: supersonic jets crashing into plasma blobs. Yep, jets and blobs.
At Brookhaven, our scientists use sophisticated simulations to test the feasibility of this approach to fusion. In the computational model, 30 supersonic plasma jets blaze—at speeds beyond 224,000 miles per hour—into a spherical chamber from all directions, spread slightly, and then collide with each other to form a ring of intense energy. This ring then collapses, imploding onto a plasma blob target. If everything goes according to plan, the ionized atoms of the target then fuse and produce tremendous amounts of usable energy.
The top image shows the plasma density, and the bottom one shows the degree of ionization.