Lab Report

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The Lab Report is a weekly compendium of media reports on science and technology achievements at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Though the Laboratory reviews items for overall accuracy, the reporting organizations are responsible for the content in the links below.

Oct. 16, 2020

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NASA and LLNL researchers keep an eye on asteroids that will one day pass close to Earth.

Rock on

If we blow up an asteroid, it might put itself back together. Despite what Hollywood tells us, stopping an asteroid from creating an extinction-level event by blowing it up may not work.

A spacecraft system smashing an asteroid into small, harmless pieces could be a real-world possibility. A new study, looking at a gigantic space-rock-on-space-rock clash, hints at how utterly ineffective this type of asteroid assassination attempt may be.

NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office, which keeps an eye on asteroids and comets that will one day pass close to Earth, instead suggests changing a space rock’s trajectory by giving it a small nudge well in advance of reaching our world. NASA and others aim to test this strategy in 2022 with the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, in which a spacecraft will deliberately crash into the smaller member of a binary asteroid system in an attempt to change its orbit around the larger body.

But if scientists don't get enough warning, a “robust disruption and dispersal of the fragments may be the only viable option to prevent the impact,” says Megan Bruck Syal, a planetary defense researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

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The 10-meter diameter target chamber at the National Ignition Facility required one of the world's largest cranes to install.

B1M

In large measure

Throughout the past century, advancements in science have been enabled by buildings and infrastructure. The construction sector’s collaborations with the world of science have dramatically advanced our species.

Opening new frontiers, answering critical questions, vaccinating billions and unlocking the secrets of our universe -- these are the world’s most incredible science megaprojects, including one at Lawrence Livermore.

Housing the world’s largest laser, Lawrence Livermore’s National Ignition Facility is used to heat and compress hydrogen fuel, inducing nuclear fusion reactions. Covering an area the size of three football fields, engineers and contractors built the facility by excavating 160,000 cubic meters of earth and pouring more than 55,000 cubic meters of concrete -- before using one of the world’s largest cranes to install the 10-meter-diameter target chamber where reactions take place.

Capable of creating some of the most extreme temperatures and pressures ever seen on Earth, the facility has carried out more than 2,700 experiments over its decade of operation, increasing our understanding of nuclear reactions. The program also has made progress toward fusion ignition, replicating the processes that occur inside the sun.

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Forest debris such as downed branches and dead leaves can be transformed into fuel for profit, according to an LLNL report on carbon neutrality.

Daily Magazine

Removing forest debris can bring big profits

Since 2018, California has sought to help private businesses reduce wildfire risks by gathering forest debris for commercial use such as transportation fuels or building products. A report by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory suggested 800,000 acres of state's forests could be treated profitably each year.

California had developed a forest management plan for state-owned lands, but it was never finalized because Gov. Newsom's administration said it was not ambitious enough and failed to account for the fact that the federal government owns about 60 percent of the forests.

The state already spends more than the federal government in maintaining forests, according to a recent data.

In August, California announced an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to reduce wildfire risk in part by using controlled burns and other means to clear 1 million acres of dead wood and other debris each year up to 2025. The deal also seeks to develop markets for woody biomass and a comprehensive statewide plan for forest management that will last 20 years.

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Upgrades to LLNL’s Corona supercomputer will boost COVID-19 research.

Updating a COVID fighting supercomputer

A Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory-based supercomputer driving coronavirus-centered research received its second upgrade since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Named not for the virus but after the 2017 total solar eclipse, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Corona high performance computing system recently received assets from chipmaker AMD and information technology company Supermicro that more than doubled its speed and capacity.

Such a boost will pave the way for more robust compute cycles and improve how the supercomputer handles deeply complex simulations — and it was made possible in part by funding from the government’s initial coronavirus relief package, the CARES Act. 

Between its delivery in 2018 and the emergence of COVID-19, Corona was predominantly used to drive forward unclassified, open science applications. And like other key U.S. supercomputing systems, when the virus hit, Corona was quickly pivoted to power coronavirus-related work, particularly in the realm of drug discovery and vaccine development.

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Researchers at the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile will eventually use a camera that can produce panoramic images of the complete Southern sky — one panorama every few nights — for 10 years.

Now that's a wide angle

Crews at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore have taken the first 3200-megapixel digital photos — the largest ever taken in a single shot — with an extraordinary array of imaging sensors that will become the heart and soul of the future camera of Vera C. Rubin Observatory.

The images are so large that it would take 378 4K ultra-high-definition TV screens to display one of them in full size, and their resolution is so high that you could see a golf ball from about 15 miles away. These and other properties will soon drive unprecedented astrophysical research.

Next, the sensor array will be integrated into the world’s largest digital camera, currently under construction at SLAC. Once installed at Rubin Observatory in Chile, the camera will produce panoramic images of the complete Southern sky — one panorama every few nights for 10 years.

Its data will feed into the Rubin Observatory Legacy Survey of Space and Time, or LSST— a catalog of more galaxies than there are living people on Earth and of the motions of countless astrophysical objects.

The first images taken with the sensors were a test for the camera’s focal plane, whose assembly was completed at SLAC in January. “This is a huge milestone for us,” said Vincent Riot, LSST Camera project manager from Lawrence Livermore. “The focal plane will produce the images for the LSST, so it’s the capable and sensitive eye of the Rubin Observatory.”