China is on course to finish building an “artificial sun” before the end of the year, local media reports.
The incredible structure will be capable of reaching 100million degrees Celcius – six times hotter than the centre of our Sun.
Scientists hope that the “artificial sun” will help harness the power of nuclear fusion.
This would bring humanity a step closer to creating “unlimited clean energy”, by mimicking reactions that naturally occur inside the Sun proper.
The “artificial sun” was first announced by Chinese researchers last November, but the project has just hit an important milestone.
Chinese media reports that early trials have allowed researchers to create stunningly high temperatures.
Researchers are using a device called a “tokamak”, which uses a powerful magnetic field to trap hot plasma.
Our Sun hits temperatures of around 15million degrees Celcius at its core.
But the plasma from China’s artificial sun has reached an electron temperature of 100million degrees Celcius – and an ion temperature of 50million degrees Celcius.
Ions are what “generate energy in the device”, Duan Xuru, an official at the China National Nuclear Corporation, told Science and Technology Daily, the official newspaper of China’s Ministry of Science and Technology.
So the plan is to now bring the ion temperature up to 100million degrees too. Ion temperature is usually lower than electron temperature, so this may be difficult.
The device, Duan said, needs to be tweaked to hit the goal.
As well as high pressure, nuclear fusion requires extremely high temperatures – which the artificial sun could provide.
If successful, China will be able to provide a major helping hand to ITER, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor.
It’s a major project involving scientists from 35 countries that aims to “new energy” sources using nuclear fusion.
If nuclear fusion can be harnessed using a low-energy method, it could allow for the creation of “unlimited” clean energy.