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Researchers in South Korea have been building an artificial sun for years and have just broken a world record. They’ve been using a superconducting fusion device called KSTAR (Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research) or Korean Artificial Sun. They have set a new record by maintaining high-temperature plasma for 20 seconds along with an ion temperature of 100 million degrees.
To put this into perspective, according to NASA (never a straight answer, as some say) the temperature of our sun is 27 million degrees. That means that this artificial sun being generated in South Korea is potentially 4x as hot as our actual sun. This could lead us to many questions, or conclusions. One question being, was our sun artificially created? If one has been created that has almost 4x the heat capacity, why not?
This project is the creation of three organizations. The Korea Institute of Fusion Energy alongside Seoul National University and Columbia University in the US. The record beats the previously set record of an 8-second operation conducted during last year’s KSTAR Plasma Campaign. The artificial sun was able to sustain an ion temperature of 100 million degrees before for the first time in 2018. But it only lasted 1.5 seconds. A far cry from 20 seconds.
Researchers have also re-created the fusion reactions on the moon as well. This took the help of hydrogen isotopes that were placed inside the KSTAR which created a plasma state where ions and electrons were separated, heating ions at extreme temperatures, which was also sustained.
KSTAR isn’t the only fusion device that creates these reactions. However, it is important to note that not one of the other fusion devices has lasted even ten seconds. KSTAR has managed to last a whole 20 seconds, setting the bar very high.
Director Si-Woo Yoon of the KSTAR Research Center shares, “The technologies required for long operations of 100 million- plasma are the key to the realization of fusion energy, and the KSTAR’s success in maintaining the high-temperature plasma for 20 seconds will be an important turning point in the race for securing the technologies for the long high-performance plasma operation, a critical component of a commercial nuclear fusion reactor in the future.”
Researchers on the KSTAR project are working to have the fusion reaction successfully run continuously for 300 seconds (5 minutes straight) with an ion temperature higher than 100 million degrees. The goal is to accomplish this by 2025.
Dr Young-Seok Park of Columbia University further added, “We are honoured to be involved in such an important achievement made in KSTAR. The 100 million-degree ion temperature achieved by enabling efficient core plasma heating for such a long duration demonstrated the unique capability of the superconducting KSTAR device, and will be acknowledged as a compelling basis for high performance, steady-state fusion plasmas.”
The sun has a very important role in our galaxy. For us, it sustains life on many levels. Our mood, energy and sleep cycles are regulated by the light photons (from the sun) entering our eyes. Plants use the sun to utilize photosynthesis as a process for growth and evolution. We depend on these very plants for survival.
The question is where is this artificial sun leading? What is the commercial or human use of an artificial sun? Can we use it to sustain life? or will it be weaponized?