Science

Laser experiments give insights into largest planets

Researchers have been able to build a clearer picture of conditions within Jupiter and Saturn, where hydrogen accounts for much of the mass.

Experiments with the world’s biggest laser have given scientists fresh insights into the largest planets in our solar system.

A study of hydrogen at extreme temperatures and pressures has enabled researchers to build a clearer picture of conditions within Jupiter and Saturn, where hydrogen accounts for much of the mass.

Experts from the University of Edinburgh worked with an international team from France and the US with the most advanced laser in the world at the National Ignition Facility in California.

Powerful laser beams were fired across the facility towards a hydrogen sample, and optical sensors used to detect changes.

Researchers were then able to observe how hydrogen behaved as the pressure and temperature were raised to six million times that of Earth’s atmosphere with conditions similar to pressures found in the interior of Jupiter.

The team said findings shed light on the physical properties of the gas, which is the focus of research into a sustainable form of energy known as fusion.

Scientists said the study gave “valuable insight into how hydrogen behaves at extreme conditions, such as those found on other planets”.

Dr Stewart McWilliams, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “Being able to undertake high-energy experiments using the world’s biggest laser has afforded us valuable insights into one of the most important materials making up the planets of our universe, as well as future energy sources.”

The study has been published in Science and supported by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council.

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