Hotter than the sun: Chinese fusion reactor claims breakthrough

China’s “artificial sun” has reached a temperature of 180 million ºF with a heating power of 10 megawatts, according to scientists at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Plasma Physics, where the experiment was conducted. That’s six times hotter than the center of the sun. The device, the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST), is built to harness the energy of nuclear fusion, the same process that powers stars.

Most living things depend on nuclear fusion. If the sun stopped working, so would we. But fusion may also offer a clean energy solution into the future.

For a fusion reaction to occur, two atomic nuclei merge under extremely high pressures and temperatures topping 270 million ºF. Once merged, they release masses of energy that can be captured and potentially used to power cities. Unlike burning fossil fuels, there are zero carbon emissions. And unlike nuclear fission, it’s relatively safe.

“The news from EAST is very exciting,” William Dorland, a physicist who studies nuclear fusion reactors at the University of Maryland, told Digital Trends. The result is not unprecedented — the world record temperatures are up to five times hotter — but Dorland, who was not involved in the research, said the result is exhilarating, particularly due to the device’s design. It’s built for “magnetic confinement fusion.”

“The challenge for magnetic confinement fusion is to produce high temperatures in the fuel while also maintaining high density and excellent thermal insulation,” Dorland said. “Achieving these three performance goals simultaneously is seriously hard.”

Nuclear fusion is tough to start and even harder to maintain. It’s difficult to build a reactor capable of containing the immense pressure and temperature the reaction demands. But fusion labs and startups around the world have begun to turn the tide, reports the BBC, and see a fusion-powered future on the horizon.

“This is the ‘SpaceX moment’ for fusion,” Christofer Mowry, chief executive of a Canadian company called General Fusion, told the BBC. “It’s the moment when the maturation of fusion science is combined with the emergence of 21st Century enabling technologies like additive manufacturing and high-temperature superconductors. Fusion is no longer ’30 years away.’”

There are still plenty of milestones ahead. Creating a reactor that can confine the liquid and scaling the device up to a commercially viable size are among the two biggest obstacles.

Emerging Tech

Global Good wants to rid the world of deadly diseases with lasers and A.I.

Global Good, a collaboration between Intellectual Ventures and Bill Gates, aims to eradicate diseases that kill children in developing nations. It tackles difficult problems with high-tech prototypes.
Home Theater

Everything to know about Sling TV: Channels, pricing, and more

Sling TV has grown a great deal since its launch. Now there are more channels and more packages to chose from, with prices to match, and more is being added all the time. Everything you need to know is right here.
Emerging Tech

Does a steam-powered spacecraft hold the key to exploring the solar system?

A newly developed spacecraft prototype capable of using steam as a propellent may help the first miners survey potential dig sites and identify space rocks best fit for mining missions. Future versions may be fitted with sensors, allowing…
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Mobile

These 13 gadgets walk a fine line between ingenious and insane

The annual avalanche of devices and gadgets is astounding, but how many will succeed? A few are destined to spark new trends, while the majority fade deservedly into obscurity. We look at some gadgets on the border of brilliant and bonkers.
Emerging Tech

A.I.-powered website creates freakishly lifelike faces of people who don’t exist

No, this isn't a picture of a missing person. It's a face generated by a new artificial intelligence on the website ThisPersonDoesNotExist.com. Here's how the impressive A.I. works.
Emerging Tech

China’s mind-controlled cyborg rats are proof we live in a cyberpunk dystopia

Neuroscience researchers from Zhejiang University, China, have created a method that allows humans to control the movements of rats using a technology called a brain-brain interface.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s MAVEN orbiter has a new job as a communication relay for Mars 2020

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbiter has been collecting atmospheric readings but now is taking on a new job as a data relay satellite for the Mars 2020 mission that launches next year.
Emerging Tech

Underground volcanoes could explain possible liquid water on Mars

Last year scientists discovered there could be liquid water on Mars. Now a research team argues that for there to be liquid water, there must be an underground source of heat -- and they believe underground volcanoes could be responsible.
Emerging Tech

The 10 most expensive drones that you (a civilian) can buy

OK, these drones may be a bit beyond your budget: Check out the most expensive drones in the world, from industrial giants to highest-end filming tools.
Emerging Tech

Of all the vape pens in the world, these 5 are the best

Vaping concentrates has become significantly more popular, especially among those that use cannabis for medicinal purposes. But don’t use just any vape pen: we found these five devices to be our favorites in 2018.
Computing

The HoloLens 2 will be announced at MWC. Here's what we know about it so far

The HoloLens 2 is ripe for an announcement. Here's what Microsoft has revealed so far, what's likely in store for the next generation HoloLens, and everything that we know about this mixed reality headset.
Emerging Tech

A river of stars one billion years old flows across the southern sky

Astronomers have identified a river of stars flowing across our galaxy and covering most of the southern sky. The estimated 4000 stars that comprise the stream were born together and have been moving together for the last one billion years.
Emerging Tech

Descending at an angle could be key to landing heavier craft on Mars

Landing on Mars is a challenge: The heavier the craft, the more difficult a safe landing becomes. Scientists propose using retropropulsion engines and angling the craft to create a pressure differential to land heavier crafts in the future.