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Visualized: Sandia National Laboratories' Z machine erupts in a web of lightning

Jon Fingas , @jonfingas

Sandia National Laboratories' Z machine sounds like it belongs in a James Bond movie more than it does an Alberquerque research facility. Based on what it can do, that's not as far-fetched as it seems. What you see isn't the handiwork of some electric spider -- it's what you witness in the immediate fraction of a second after the Z's electromagnetic pulse kicks in and forks of lightning burst across the 108-foot distance inside. The pulse in question is key to Sandia's studies of fusion and the effect of very intense magnetic pressures on materials that normally refuse to change states. Even in 2006, the Z was putting out pressure more than 10 million times that of the atmosphere, and it successfully melted diamond at roughly half that strength. It goes without saying that we don't want to be anywhere near this kind of energy when scientists flick the switch, but we're glad to see that something so pretty and deadly can help us understand physics.

[Image credit: Randy Montoya, Sandia National Laboratories]

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