Does anyone remember this line from Spider-Man 2? Doc Ock manically obsesses over “the power of the sun, in the palm of my hand.” Well, it turns out that China might not have seen the film or the terrible things that result in Otto Octavius wanting to literally control an artificial sun. The country has created a machine that is using plasma fusion to literally create and hold an artificial sun. What is even more impressive is that they have smashed the previous record for the time spent maintaining this artificial sun. The previous record was held by France, where their tokamak reactor held on for 390 seconds. China’s new record was an astounding 1,056 seconds of containment.
The Institue of Plasma reported that they maintained a roiling loop of plasma that was heated to 120 million degrees Celsius or 216 million degrees Fahrenheit. The reasoning behind China announcing this massive breakthrough is their means to create sustainable energy through the means of fusion reactors. Their reactor is known as EAST or Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak. It is also known as HT-7U. This highly sophisticated machine is meant to harness and create an artificial sun that can be used as a means for fusion energy. The fact that these scientists were able to nearly triple the record for sustainability is amazing. This is something straight out of a sci-fi movie or Spider-Man.
What might seem frightening, or maybe more impressive about this feat that China accomplished, is that the artificial sun that their Tokamak reactor created was 120 million degrees. Our sun only burns at 15 million degrees Celcius. How this feat is even achieved is insane. The similarities between how the machine works and what happens are eerily similar to the plot of a science-fiction flick.
The way in which this reactor works is that the plasma is superheated into a donut or star shape and controlled through the usage of magnetic fields. However, the plasma can become chaotic and turbulent, causing instability and leakage. Though containing this energy for over 1000 seconds is impressive, it is not yet at the point where the fusion can be studied or cultivated just yet. The energy being contained for that long is still a massive breakthrough.
The unfortunate aspect of studying and trying to control plasma fusion is that it takes in a ton more energy than we can cultivate out of it currently, and that means that China controlling an artificial sun has a long way to go. But scientific breakthroughs are always exciting. They are using the reactor to further advance what it would mean to create sustainable energy that wouldn’t damage the planet further would change how everyone lives. Fossil fuels are what damage the planet currently, and the aim is to move away from having to use them completely. Damaging emissions in the air are what further damage the Earth’s ozone layer and can further push forward the effects of climate change. Hopefully, the breakthroughs of science can produce even more exciting breakthroughs in fusion energy in the near future.