China’s artificial sun reaches fusion temperature: 100 million degrees

In a breakthrough for nuclear fusion research, scientists at China's Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor have produced temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion on Earth.

Credit: EAST Team
  • The EAST reactor was able to heat hydrogen to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius.
  • Nuclear fusion could someday provide the planet with a virtually limitless supply of clean energy.
  • Still, scientists have many other obstacles to pass before fusion technology becomes a viable energy source.

Scientists in China have reported a major breakthrough in the quest for nuclear fusion technology, which would harness power through the same processes that occur within stars.

At the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) reactor in Hefei, China, researchers managed to heat hydrogen within the 'artificial sun' to a temperature of more than 100 million degrees Celsius, or 212 million degrees Fahrenheit, at which point it becomes plasma. The temperatures inside EAST are actually about seven times hotter than the center of the sun, where the added pressure from gravity allows for fusion to occur.

On Earth, extreme temperatures are necessary to produce nuclear fusion, which occurs when two nuclei come together to form a heavier nucleus. The fusion process releases vast amounts of heat and energy, the results of which we can see when we look up at the Sun, or any star in the night sky.

Credit: EAST Team

The opposite of fusion is nuclear fission, which occurs when the nuclei of atoms split in a chain reaction. This process also releases extraordinary amounts of energy, and it's currently used in nuclear weapons and power plants worldwide. However, nuclear fission leaves behind dangerous radioactive waste. Nuclear fusion is relatively clean.

That's partly why scientists worldwide have been racing for years to develop a safe and reliable way to produce the conditions necessary for nuclear fusion, which in theory could someday give the world a virtually limitless supply of clean energy. The recent success at EAST represents an important step toward that goal.

Still, while the recent achievement at the EAST reactor proves that the 'artificial sun' can produce the extreme temperatures necessary for nuclear fusion, and also allowed researchers to study how plasma reacts at such temperatures, scientists still have many milestones to cross before the technology could possibly become a safe and reliable option for limitless, clean energy. Those obstacles include finding an abundant fuel source, maintaining stability in reactors for more than seconds at a time, and scaling the technology to become commercially viable.

Michio Kaku: Fusion really is 20 years away

A still from the film "We Became Fragments" by Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller, part of the Global Oneness Project library.

Photo: Luisa Conlon , Lacy Roberts and Hanna Miller / Global Oneness Project
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Stories are at the heart of learning, writes Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Executive Director for the Global Oneness Project. They have always challenged us to think beyond ourselves, expanding our experience and revealing deep truths.
  • Vaughan-Lee explains 6 ways that storytelling can foster empathy and deliver powerful learning experiences.
  • Global Oneness Project is a free library of stories—containing short documentaries, photo essays, and essays—that each contain a companion lesson plan and learning activities for students so they can expand their experience of the world.
Keep reading Show less

Artist rendering of a supervolcano.

Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • The supervolcano in Yellowstone National Park could cause an "ultra-catastrophe," warns an extinction events writer.
  • The full eruption of the volcano last happened 640,000 years ago.
  • The blast could kill billions and make United States uninhabitable.
Keep reading Show less

Ashamed over my mental illness, I realized drawing might help me – and others – cope

Just before I turned 60, I discovered that sharing my story by drawing could be an effective way to both alleviate my symptoms and combat that stigma.

Photo by JJ Ying on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

I've lived much of my life with anxiety and depression, including the negative feelings – shame and self-doubt – that seduced me into believing the stigma around mental illness: that people knew I wasn't good enough; that they would avoid me because I was different or unstable; and that I had to find a way to make them like me.

Keep reading Show less

Sexual activity linked to higher cognitive function in older age

A joint study by two England universities explores the link between sex and cognitive function with some surprising differences in male and female outcomes in old age.

The results of this one-of-a-kind study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men.
Image by Lightspring on Shutterstock
Mind & Brain
  • A joint study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford in England has linked sexual activity with higher cognitive abilities in older age.
  • The results of this study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men. In women, however, there was a significant association between sexual activity in word recall alone - number sequencing was not impacted.
  • The differences in testosterone (the male sex hormone) and oxytocin (a predominantly female hormone) may factor into why the male cognitive level changes much more during sexual activity in older age.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…