Inside the NIF preamplifiers. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
A giant laser has been used to simulate the pressures present within the cores of the gas giant planets.
It might be the world's hardest material, but even diamond is unable to withstand the hellish conditions found within the cores of the solar system's largest bodies.
With pressures several times greater than those found inside the Earth's core the interiors of the gas giants have remained something of a mystery, but now by simulating those conditions using the world's largest laser scientists have been able to find out for the first time what processes might be going on inside them.
"We don't know what lies within the core of Jupiter or Saturn but now for the first time we now have the ability to study how matter exists under these extreme conditions of pressure and temperature," said study lead author Dr Ray Smith.
"It has been proposed, for example, that Neptune has a diamond in its core, due to decomposition of methane which gets compacted under extreme pressure. The Kepler space mission has found Neptune-sized planets to be very common in our galaxy."
The laser used in the experiment, which is located in the US National Ignition Facility, uses up to 192 individual beams to focus immense amounts of energy on to a single target.
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