Germany Unveils The World's Largest Artificial Sun

By Kim Bussing on May 15, 2017

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Synlight artificial sun unveiled in Germany (Photo Credit: DLR)

The Earth’s natural power plant — the sun — bathes the planet with more than enough green energy to fulfill all our power needs. However, while we have managed to harness some of it through solar panels, most of its potential remains untapped. Finding new ways to capture more of this unlimited sustainable energy has proven tricky given that the sun doesn’t work at night, often hides behind clouds, and in some areas of the world, disappears altogether for months at a time. Now, scientists and engineers at the German Space Center (DLR) in Jülich have built a more reliable and controllable substitute to enable researchers to discover new ways to capture the sun’s energy.

Called Synlight, the world’s largest artificial sun, which cost €3.5 million ($3.77 million USD), is a 45-feet high and 52-feet wide honeycomb-like structure made of 149 7-kW xenon lamps. When focused on a single area, the lamps can produce temperatures of up to 5,400°F and generate 320kw, or 10,000 times, the solar radiation experienced on Earth. The intense heat is enough to vaporize humans standing in its vicinity, which is why the three-story manmade “sun,” that works like a backward parabolic reflector, is housed inside a protective radiation chamber.

Cross Section of Synlight (Photo Credit: DLR)

Synlight, which was unveiled on March 23, will be used to help researchers find new ways to use the sun’s abundant energy to split water it into its two components — hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen is considered the fuel of the future because when it burns, it releases water — rather than carbon emissions — and doesn’t contribute to global warming. Scientists hope the gas can someday be used to power everything from airplanes to cars. Unfortunately, current methods of isolating the gas involve burning harmful fossil fuels or electrolysis, which needs significant amounts of electricity. Both techniques are expensive and unsustainable.

“We’d need billions of tons of hydrogen if we wanted to drive on C02-free fuel,” Bernard Hoffschmidt, a research director at the DLR, said. “Climate change is speeding up, so we need to speed up innovation.

Synlight is made with 149 7K-W lights

Operating the artificial sun is not cheap as it consumes the amount of electricity used by an average four-person household annually in just four hours. However, Hoffschmidt is hopeful that Synlight’s reliability will enable researchers to master hydrogen-making techniques which can be mimicked and scaled up using our sun. Experts believe that with support from scientists worldwide, we could live in a hydrogen-fueled world within the next decade. In the future, the German researchers also hope to use Synlight to test the durability of spacecraft material and equipment when subjected to intense solar radiation. This research will help astronomers tremendously in their quest to explore worlds far beyond ours!

Resources: phys.org,newatlas.com, futurism.com

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abundantcomponentsdurabilityelectrolysisfossilharnessinnovationisolatingmimickedparabolicquestradiationreliablesubjectedsubstitutesustainabletremendouslyunsustainablevaporizevicinityxenon
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Reading Comprehension (11 questions)

  1. Why is it difficult for scientists to find new ways to harness the sun’s energy?
  2. What have the scientists and engineers at the German Space Center (DLR) built to help researchers overcome the problem?

Critical Thinking Challenge

Do you think the high cost of building and operating the artificial...

Vocabulary in Context

“Neither technique is sustainable nor affordable.”

In the above sentence, the word technique most likely means:

(a) method of projecting personal charm, appeal, etc.

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196 Comments
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  • Destroyer39Tuesday, May 30, 2017 at 6:43 am
    kool
    • :)Monday, May 29, 2017 at 4:00 pm
      If it takes so much regular electricity run it on as much renewable solar power as possible so it has a fraction of a cost. If it takes so much energy from power plants either reuse its own energy or they are making more carbon than they want to eliminate. So it becomes anticlimactic.
      • Mhm Sunday, May 28, 2017 at 2:49 pm
        It will explode in 80 billion years, that artificial sun will do nothing and will cost millions to run
        • speedyfast2009
          speedyfast2009Saturday, May 27, 2017 at 8:48 am
          Wow!
          • 0Friday, May 26, 2017 at 2:01 pm
            that is amazing.
            • qwertyFriday, May 26, 2017 at 7:45 am
              the sun WILL implode sooner or later, just not when this generation is around
              • snolax
                snolaxThursday, May 25, 2017 at 6:33 pm
                the sun will expand way pasted earth and then get smaller then explode. no more sun! no more earth!
                • cutedritten3000
                  cutedritten3000Friday, May 26, 2017 at 9:02 am
                  True. Thankfully that will be in roughly a billion years, but with humanity's inaccuracy at predictions it could come sooner. Of course, at that point we would not need the artificial sun. We would be gone. 😺
                  • cutedritten3000
                    cutedritten3000Friday, May 26, 2017 at 9:03 am
                    Wait more than a billion. 80 billion? I cannot remember.
                • wowThursday, May 25, 2017 at 4:30 pm
                  the sun won't explode because the sun's been around for long time but it's still in the mid-twenties if it was a human so it means it has 80 billion years until it explodes
                  • Hi!!!!!!!!!!Thursday, May 25, 2017 at 4:12 pm
                    I think this is a great idea :D
                    • bittu
                      bittuThursday, May 25, 2017 at 3:09 pm
                      How will the sun explode?

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