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FOUND: Hydrogen Plasma That Could Be New Energy Source

Inside the Wendelstein 7-X reactor (Photo: Gwurden/Wikimedia)

Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, is about to switch on a giant fusion reactor, to create hydrogen plasma.

In 2014, a team at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics, in Greifswald, Germany, finished building the Wendelstein 7-X, a fusion device that could create energy from fusing atomic nuclei together, the same process that makes the sun so powerful. It had taken almost 10 years. But in the history of fusion research, that’s a relatively short time. For decades, scientists have been chasing the possibility of fusion power, which theoretically could provide people with enormous amounts of sustainable energy. 

The challenge, though, is getting more power from the fusion reaction than it takes to create it. The temperatures needed to create plasmas that can reach 100 to 200 million degrees Celsius. To manage that extreme, fusion reactors use magnetic energy to contain the plasma.

This reactor won’t actually produce energy, but it’s supposed to demonstrate that this type of fusion device, a stellarator, could be used in power plants. There’s a rival device, called a tokamak. (France is building one.) But the Max Planck Institute likes their device. “The stellarator is much calmer,” the head of the project told the AP. “It’s far harder to build, but easier to operate.”

In December, the team used the reactor to create helium plasma, which is easier to create; today, at 3:35 p.m. CET—that’s 9:35 a.m. on America’s East Coast—Merkel, trained as a physicist, will start the new process, to create hydrogen plasma. You can watch here.

Bonus finds: Fossilized spider penis

Every day, we highlight one newly lost or found object, curiosity or wonder. Discover something unusual or amazing? Tell us about it! Send your finds to sarah.laskow@atlasobscura.com.