For nearly two decades, Germany's Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics has been building a machine that will either revolutionize energy production or open the gates of Hell.
We're kidding about the last part, but the Wendelstein 7-X was built with potentially world-changing objectives in mind. The W7-X is basically a massive fusion reactor, but its creators refer to it as a "stellarator," just to emphasize the fact that this machine could "create power using the same process that makes our sun produce energy," in the words of the U.K.'s Metro. With its insane twisting metal housing and jagged surface, this stellerator honestly looks like it was designed in the bowels of Hell.
There's some good logic behind this machine's sinister design. What separates the W7-X stellarator from your friendly neighborhood nuclear reactor is that the latter deal with fission, drawing energy and power from the process of atomic decay. The W7-X instead creates power by smashing atoms together — you know, just like the process that occurs inside a hydrogen bomb.
To do this, stellerators "hold super hot gas in a cage of powerful magnetic fields," explainsScience magazine. "[W7-X] has been optimized by a supercomputer to produce the best possible magnetic cage. Fifty bizarrely twisted superconducting magnets look more like sculptures and pieces of precision engineering."
The stellarator, reported the Daily Mail, was actually first designed in the 1950s — it's just taken over 60 years for technology to catch up to the theoretical physics that inspired it. If everything goes perfectly, it could point the way toward a future powered by nuclear fusion.
The scientists behind the project have a simple goal for the machine's first trial run: to "contain a plasma at 100 million degrees Centigrade, held in place by six super-chilled magnetic coils, weighing 50 tonnes each" for at least a half-hour. It's cool, though, since the Max Planck Institute will reportedly create "a smaller, controlled version" of that.
The prospect of harnessing the power of the sun is certainly alluring. But come on — doesn't this thing remind you of that fiendish, spiked "gravity drive" slash portal to Hell from Event Horizon?
Three cheers for advances in science. No cheers for building something out of our nightmares.