Does the video show China launching an artificial sun?

In January 2022, a video purporting to show China launching an artificial sun racked up millions of views while circulating on social media:

This video does not show an artificial sun launched by China. This is just a video of a rocket launch.

One of the reasons some social media users may have been fooled by this captioned video is that China has really developed a so-called “artificial sun.” This project consists of a nuclear fusion device called the ‘HL-2M’ tokamak capable of generating superheated plasma at over 125 million degrees Fahrenheit. However, this device was not launched into space. It is located at the Southwestern Institute of Physics (SWIP), in the Chinese province of Sichuan.

CHENGDU, CHINA – DECEMBER 04: Chinese nuclear fusion device ‘HL-2M’ tokamak, nicknamed the ‘Artificial Sun’, performs its first plasma discharge at Southwestern Institute of Physics (SWIP) on December 4, 2020 in Chengdu, province from Sichuan of China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

Live Science reported:

China’s “artificial sun” set a new world record after superheating a loop of plasma to temperatures five times hotter than the sun for more than 17 minutes, state media reported.

The EAST (Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak) nuclear fusion reactor maintained a temperature of 158 million degrees Fahrenheit (70 million degrees Celsius) for 1,056 seconds, according to Xinhua News Agency. This achievement brings scientists one small but significant step closer to creating a near-limitless clean energy source.

Gong Xianzu, a researcher at the Institute of Plasma Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences who is in charge of the experiment, said in a declaration:

“We reached a plasma temperature of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds in an experiment in the first half of 2021. This time, steady-state plasma operation was maintained for 1,056 seconds at a temperature close to 70 million degrees Celsius, laying a solid scientific and experimental foundation for the operation of a fusion reactor.

China’s artificial sun was not launched into space. The viral video shown above shows an unrelated rocket launch with an erroneous caption.

We were unable to identify the specific source of this video, but it appears to show a rocket launch at Wenchang Space Launch Center in Wenchang, Hainan, China. A number of other videos show crowds on the beach outside the launch center watching rocket launches. The following video (as well as the photograph at the top of this article), for example, shows a group of onlookers gazing at a similar “sun-shaped” ball of light that was part of a rocket launch in December 2019:


Sources:

“China launches the first module of the new space station.” BBC News, 29 April 2021. www.bbc.com, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-56924370.

China’s “artificial sun” sets new world record-Xinhua. http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/20211231/c4fad387ef0745c18aedee05eed1414d/c.html. Accessed January 10, 2022.

Magazine, Smithsonian and Elizabeth Gamillo. “China’s artificial sun just broke the record for the longest sustained nuclear fusion.” Smithsonian Magazine, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/chinas-artificial-sun-reactor-broke-record-for-nuclear-fusion-180979336/. Accessed January 10, 2022.

Turner, Ben. “China’s $1 Trillion ‘Artificial Sun’ Fusion Reactor Just Got Five Times Hotter Than the Sun.” Livescience.Com, January 6, 2022, https://www.livescience.com/chinas-1-trillion-artificial-sun-fusion-reactor-just-got-five-times-hotter-than-the-sun.



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