Sandia National Laboratories researcher Daniel Sinars demonstrates the setup he and his team created to peer into the center of Sandia’s Z machine at the moment of firing. The crystal under his finger is attached to portions of a Z target configuration. (Photo by Randy Montoya)
Peering into the center of Sandia National Laboratory’s Z machine as it fires had been a feat unachievable for a decade.
Other than a nuclear bomb, Z is the most powerful generator of X-rays on the planet. Last year, its central mechanism, called a Z-pinch, fused isotopes of hydrogen to create nuclear fusion. Now, by inserting a pretty, two-inch-long crystal that reflects at only a single frequency into the hellish center of Z as it fires, researchers have been able to visually filter out the bedlam of more than 99 percent of the energies generated.
By shining the energy from a relatively weak laser beam through the machine and reflecting it off the crystal to a detector, the researchers have emerged with a series of pictures of the machine’s key process -- the dissolution of a wire cage (about the size of a spool of thread) into ionized gas particles. By viewing the dissolution nanosecond by nanosecond, Z experimentalists can see more rapidly and accurately how to improve the final output.
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