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German scientists switch on the ‘world’s largest artificial sun’

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BERLIN (AP) – Scientists in Germany are flipping the switch on what’s being described as ‘the world’s largest artificial sun’.

The giant honeycomb-like structure, known as the ‘Synlight’ experiment uses 149 giant spotlights normally found in cinemas to simulate sunlight.

The group hope it will help shed light on new ways of making climate-friendly fuel.

They will focus the huge array of xenon short-arc lamps on a single 20-by-20 centimetre (8×8 inch) spot.

In doing so, scientists from the German Aerospace Centre, or DLR, will be able to produce the equivalent of 10,000 times the amount of solar radiation that would normally shine on the same surface.

‘If you went in the room when it was switched on, you’d burn directly,’ Professor Bernard Hoffschmidt, a research director at the DLR, where the experiment is housed in a protective radiation chamber, told the Guardian.

The experiment uses as much electricity in four hours as a four-person household would in a year.

The furnace-like conditions that this energy creates will reach temperatures of up to 3,000 degrees Celsius (5,432 Fahrenheit).

Sunlight is normally in short supply in Germany this time of year, and the German government is one of the world’s biggest investors in renewable energy.

The scientists, based in Juelich, about 30 kilometres (19 miles) west of Cologne, will start experimenting with this dazzling array on Thursday.

They will try to find ways of tapping the enormous amount of energy that reaches Earth in the form of light from the sun.

One area of the team’s research will focus on how to efficiently produce hydrogen, a first step toward making artificial fuel for airplanes.

‘We’d need billions of tonnes of hydrogen if we wanted to drive aeroplanes and cars on CO2-free fuel,’ said Professor Hoffschmidt.

‘Climate change is speeding up so we need to speed up innovation.’

Hydrogen is considered a promising future source of fuel because it does give off carbon emissions and so does not contribute to global warming.

But hydrogen in its pure form does not exist naturally, and so must be split from water using huge amounts of energy.

It is hoped that sunlight could provide a cheap source for this energy in future.

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