Researchers have developed a simulator so powerful it can briefly unleash energy equivalent to the entire US national grid, as ITV News Health and Science Correspondent Martin Stew reports
Behind an ordinary looking door in the basement of Imperial College London is an extraordinary piece of engineering.
The Mega Ampere Generator for Plasma Implosion Experiments (MAGPIE) is being used to try and recreate an element of how stars are formed and black holes grow.
"What we're doing is a taking a relatively modest amount of electricity - about the amount you use to boil a kettle - and focusing it into a point of time that it is the same amount of power as produced by the whole of the US national grid," Prof Jerry Chittinden, Plasma Physics, Imperial College London told ITV News.
For a few nanoseconds that pulse is then condensed from a large two storey room to a metal wire, which is five times finer than a human hair.
The extreme current causes so much heat the metal is vaporized into plasma, which travels at half a million miles per hour.
Using super slow motion cameras and lasers, scientists are able to see how plasma moves and interacts.
The principle is similar to an aeroplane engineer making a scale model to test in a wind tunnel.
In the case of a star the scale isn't one to 10, like a plane, but one to a trillion trillion.
In the space of just a few centimetres, researchers were able to replicate the pattern of how plasma jets are projected when a star forms.
A similar jet shape formed by a real junior star was recorded by the James Webb Space Telescope, but that picture covered an area of space bigger than our entire solar system.
"The fact that you can reproduce this behavior, and it's so many hundreds of orders of magnitude different - but you can still do it - is really exciting," PhD researcher Katherine Marrow said.
"I'm trying to recreate what happens when solar wind smashes into the earth's magnetic field.
"Space weather is a fairly big problem. If you have a really big solar flare, for example, then that can wipe out communications on earth.
"And so understanding the dynamics of this kind of plasma is really useful."
The actual machine has been used for years in the pursuit of nuclear fusion - the energy source which powers the sun.
That principle was proved possible in December last year, but doing it economically at scale remains a huge challenge.
The more we understand about stars, the greater the chance we can harness that potentially limitless energy.
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