After years of frustration, scientists have finally made a breakthrough in the quest to harness the same fusion energy that powers the sun. Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory say that by pointing the world's most powerful laser at a peppercorn-sized target, they unleashed a huge amount of energy with a fusion reaction—in effect, creating a miniature star for a split-second, the Wall Street Journal reports. The breakthrough, which follows many failed experiments, was made last fall but was only revealed this week in a study published in Nature.
"For the first time anywhere, we've gotten more energy out of the fuel than what was put into the fuel," says a researcher at the California laboratory, though useful levels of fusion still appear to be a long way off, NPR finds. The ultimate goal is to reach "ignition"—a self-sustaining fusion reaction that would provide the world with an almost limitless source of clean energy. A Princeton professor of astrophysical sciences compares the process to lighting a match and then igniting a pile of lumber. "They’re close to getting the match lit," he tells the New York Times. "Which is a big step."