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Scientists recreate core conditions on Jupiter, Saturn using lasers

20 July 2014, 9:31 am EDT By Dianne Depra Tech Times
Saturn is but one of the planets in the Solar System but understanding the giant gas planet is a promising way towards unlocking the secrets of the universe.   ( NASA )

Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) found a way to compress a diamond, mimicking conditions in the cores of planets like Jupiter and Saturn.

Working alongside researchers from the Princeton University and University of California, Berkeley, LLNL scientists used the world's largest laser known as the U.S. National Ignition Facility (NIF) to achieve what they set out to do. Actually, it was 176 lasers coming together as one to compress a diamond to 50 million times the atmospheric pressure of the Earth or 14 times of the planet's core. The air above you is equivalent to one atmosphere. The NIF has a total of 192 lasers.

Diamonds are chosen for the experiment because these are made from carbon and carbon is the fourth most abundant of the elements in the universe. They are the hardest material known to man but it took no more than 10 billionths of a second to vaporize a piece with the help of the NIF. Despite the lack of an end-product that can be further observed, the experiment is helpful because it has shown that it is possible to study the behavior of planets rich in carbon, as well as stars and exoplanets beyond the Milky Way.

"The experimental techniques developed here provide a new capability to experimentally reproduce pressure-temperature conditions deep in planetary interiors," said LLNL physicist and lead author for the study, Ray Smith.

Until now, researchers have only relied on theoretical models and data from other experiments to make guesses about what could be happening at the cores of planets. This isn't the first time, too, that 50 million times the Earth's atmospheric pressure was achieved. It was just that previous methods made the compressed material heat up quickly, getting up to 10 times hotter than the actual core of Jupiter, which is rated to be between 17,000 and 35,000 degrees F.

"The problem is similar to moving a plow slowly enough to push sand forward without building it up in height. This was accomplished by carefully tuning the rate at which the laser intensity changes with time," added Smith.

By taking advantage of a means that was initially designed for nuclear fusion research, LLNL scientists were able to meet desired atmospheric pressures without exceeding the temperature in Jupiter's core.

Aside from merely recreating core conditions in giant gas planets, this study also sheds light on how materials behave, pointing out that what was once thought to be simple may, in fact, be more complicated than it appears.

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