Chinese artificial sun pushes past 100 million degrees

An interior view of the magnetic chamber used to create the ‘artificial sun’ in Hefei Anhui province Nov. 12 2018. CNS

An interior view of the magnetic chamber used to create the ‘artificial sun’ in Hefei Anhui province Nov. 12 2018. CNS

Researchers from China's Hefei Institutes of Physical Sciences announced that China's "artificial sun" just became the hottest known nuclear fusion experiment on Earth - literally, with the plasma reaching 100 million degrees Celsius.

While current nuclear power plants rely on nuclear fission - a chain reaction where uranium atoms are split to release energy - nuclear fusion effectively does the opposite by forcing atoms to merge.

The major problem with nuclear fusion is the conditions required to create it-extremely high pressures and temperatures of around 150 million degrees Celsius (270 million degrees Fahrenheit).

The machine has been created to replicate the way in which the star at the centre of our solar system generates its colossal energy.

One way of doing this is to inject plasma into a reactor and hold it in place with magnetic fields; tokamaks like EAST do this using the fields generated by the moving plasma itself. But like on the Sun, the plasma is prone to produce bursts. The walls of a tokamak are built to absorb the massive amounts of heat from the continuous splitting of atoms in the reactor's core.

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EAST, the nickname for China's artificial sun, made its remarkable achievement during the superconductor's four-month-long experiment campaign this year.

To put that in perspective, the temperature at the core of the sun is said to be about 15 million degrees Celsius, making the plasma in China's "artificial sun" more than six times hotter than the original. The program-Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST)-is known as the "artificial sun" because of the nature of what the scientists are trying to achieve.

In stable fusion, a temperature of 100 million C is one of the most fundamental elements, because fusion is possible only if the central temperature reaches 100 million C.

Chinese nuclear scientists have reached an important milestone in the global quest to harness energy from nuclear fusion, a process that occurs naturally in the sun.

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