LIVERMORE, Calif. (AP) – The world’s most powerful laser, created to help keep tabs on the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile while also studying the heavens, has been unveiled.

The super laser, known officially as the National Ignition Facility, was unveiled Friday at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory about 50 miles east of San Francisco.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., were among thousands of people in attendance at the ceremony.

The NIF, which is the size of a football field, consists of 192 separate laser beams, each traveling 1,000 feet in one-thousandth of a second to converge simultaneously on a target the size of a pencil eraser.

Federal officials said they planned to use it on a multifaceted assignment that would include ensuring aging nuclear weapons are functioning properly without resorting to underground testing.

Other uses will include the study of astrophysics and experiments in developing green energy programs.

Beginning next year, scientists also will use the laser for experiments aimed at creating controlled fusion reactions similar to those found in the sun.

“More energy will be produced by this ignition process than the amount of laser energy required to start it. This is the long-sought goal of energy gain that has been the goal of fusion researchers for more than half a century,” said NIF director Edward Moses.

The laser will be used in astrophysics, allowing scientists to mimic conditions inside planets and new solar systems, something the lab’s officials said would allow for conducting experiments that could never be undertaken on Earth before.

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