Picture of the Day: The Z Machine

The Z Machine

The Z Machine. The Z Pulsed Power Facility produces tremendous energy when it fires. Click to enlarge.

Used to study the physical properties of dense stars like white dwarfs, Sandia National Laboratory’s Z Machine looks like something straight out of a sci-fi movie!

“The Z machine is the Earth’s most powerful and efficient laboratory radiation source”


To scientists, this means that in each of the approximately 200 shots Z fires every year, the machine uses currents of about 26 million amps to reach peak X-ray emissions of 350 terawatts and an X-ray output of 2.7 megajoules.

To everyone else, however, these numbers simply mean that the Z machine can create conditions found nowhere else on Earth. The implications, of course, are huge.

The Z machine, located in Albuquerque, N.M., is part of the Pulsed Power Program, which started at Sandia National Laboratories back in the 1960s. Pulsed power is a technology that concentrates electrical energy and turns it into short pulses of enormous power, which are then used to generate X-rays and gamma rays. Produced in the laboratory, this controlled radiation creates conditions similar to those caused by the detonation of nuclear weapons, which is why from its earliest days pulsed power has been used to study weapons effects.

An optic from the Z Backlighter Laser Facility is examined prior to installation.

For the past decade, images of the spectacular Z machine in action have garnered as much attention in the popular press as its scientific breakthroughs have among researchers. In 2004 the National Nuclear Security Administration authorized funding to refurbish and upgrade Z into the more powerful ZR. The refurbishment, completed in 2007, delivered improvements on every front, and today the facility continues to be a major tool in the development of Sandia’s weapons effects, weapons physics, and fusion technologies, all of which make invaluable contributions to science, national security and fusion energy research.


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Yanis Varoufakis


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