Television, technology

A Star Is Born, Literally

Johnny Sanford :: Wednesday, April 28th, 2010 12:00 pm

Stephen Hawking’s new television show, Into the Universe, airing  on the Discovery Channel, has more than a few mind-bending concepts to absorb. On Monday, D+T Editor Alex Moore wrote an article about Hawking, which  intrigued me enough to sit down and watch the show. It simulates some pretty f’ing cool alien life, and ends with the doomsday proposal that if intelligent alien life does exist, they most likely would want our precious resources and would fly halfway across the universe to take them. Hawking proposes that the way they would do so would be by opening up a wormhole by focusing the intense rays of a star into a single point. Fascinating, but hard for me to image outside the movie theater. Until now.

The article that caught my eye is front page news, titled “Can World’s Largest Laser Zap Earth’s Energy Woes?” It lays out a strikingly similar scenario about to unfold  in a “drab looking office building…about an hour’s drive east of San Francisco” this summer.

CNN boils down Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s plans to build a “mini-star” right here on Earth, describing it accordingly,

Step one: Build the largest laser in the world… (To do this, you’ll have to suspend all previous notions about what a laser looks like. This one is basically a giant factory full of tubes. The laser beam, which is concentrated light, bounces back and forth over the distance of a mile, charging up as it goes.)

Step two: Split this humongous laser into 192 beams. Aim all of them — firing-range style — at a single point that’s about the size of a BB.

Step three: On that tiny target, apply a smidge of deuterium and tritium, two reactive isotopes of hydrogen that can be extracted from seawater. Surround those atoms with a gold capsule that’s smaller than a thimble.

Step four: Fire the laser!

If all goes well, the resulting reaction will be hotter than the center of the sun (more than 100 million degrees Celsius) and will exert more pressure than 100 billion atmospheres. This will smash the hydrogen isotopes together with so much force and heat that their nuclei will fuse, sending off energy and neutrons.

Voila. An itty-bitty star is born.

Did the folks at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory check in with Stephen Hawking’s people? Here’s how Hawking described the best way in opening a wormhole in space and time in Into the Universe:

I imagine [intelligent aliens] might live in massive ships…having used up all of their natural resources at home…If so, it makes sense that they would exploit each new planet to make more ships so they could move on..perhaps their capabilities would be limited only by the amount of energy they could harness and control…For example, it might be possible to collect the energy from an entire star. to do that, they could deploy millions of mirrors around an entire sun and reflect it towards one collection point. Such power might make it possible to warp the fabric of space and create a wormhole to travel huge distances in the blink of an eye.

What would be the result of opening a mini wormhole on the surface of the planet? I don’t know, but the movie Stargate comes to mind. While they seem to be opposing thoughts-one seeks to create a star and one seeks to harness the power of a star, the ramifications of both are startling. If either outcome is to be successful, life as we know it would change. The idea of a “mini-sun” would revolutionize how we look at energy grids. Having the ability to control and manipulate wormholes sucessfully would allow for instant transportation not just around the country, but around the universe.