Star Trek 'Warp Engine' Used To Crush Diamond For Science

The world's biggest laser, a machine so futuristic in design that it appeared in a Star Trek movie, has been used to crush a diamond, exposing it to forces equal to that found within Saturn, 14 times the core pressure of Earth.

The U.S. National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California provided the setting for the experiment. 30 feet in diameter and bristling with lasers, the targeting chamber appeared in the 2013 movie Star Trek: Into Darkness as the warp core of the Enterprise. Recently though, the machine brought space a step closer to Earth as scientists used it to compress a diamond, generating a pressure of 50 million atmospheres, far greater than anything found naturally on this planet.

Star Trek fans will recognize the chamber as the warp core of the Enterprise, from Star Trek: Into Darkness
The US National Ignition Facility doubled as the warp core of the Enterprise in Star Trek: Into Darkness

The experiment was conducted by firing 176 lasers at a gold cylinder measuring 1.1 centimeters long and 0.6 centimeters in diameter. As the cylinder heated up and released x-rays, it compressed a tiny diamond to a pressure of five terapascals. The diamond's density was nearly quadrupled in the experiment, setting a new record.

"We don't know what lies within the core of Jupiter or Saturn but now for the first time we now have the ability to study how matter exists under these extreme conditions of pressure and temperature," claimed Dr Ray Smith, lead author of the study. "No one's compressed diamond to that extent before."

While the experiment destroyed the diamond, turning it into dust, researchers were able to measure the process. For a billionth of a second, the diamond was denser than lead and 12.03 times denser than water. In their natural state, diamonds are 3.25 times denser than water.The experiment will allow scientists to better understand the conditions within other planets in our solar system, and how they came into being, BBC reports. "If we want to understand which planets beyond Earth may ultimately be habitable," Smith pointed out, "we must develop a broad understanding of all the possible end products of planet-forming processes."

Smith's experiment isn't the first brush between Star Trek's technology and scientific reality. As The Inquisitr previously reported, a team from NASA is working on a concept design of a warp drive engine, pursuing faster than light travel first popularized by Star Trek.

[Images via BBC and Discover Magazine]