Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories use the Z machine to study mysteries of the Universe. Here are three discoveries from 2012:
1. Neptune’s water
Astrophysicists used the Z machine to hurl projectiles up to 96 000 km/h at a tiny sample of water, creating pressures like those seen at the cores of giant ice planets such as Neptune. The water compressed to a quarter of its volume – much less than expected – forcing scientists to re-think their theories about how Neptune was formed.
2. Magnetic fusion
The Z machine’s magnetic fields can implode tiny beryllium cylinders containing nuclear fuel. The next step, planned for this year, is to add deuterium fuel. Simulations suggest that the result will release more energy than it consumes – a key to practical fusion power.
3. White dwarfs
The Z machine can also crush hydrogen plasma, duplicating conditions seen on white dwarfs, the ultra-dense final state of stars like our Sun. Reseachers can now directly test the exotic properties they see through telescopes. – ALEX HUTCHINSON