No, that is not a giant pencil. It is a 1.875 Mega-Joule laser (via National Ignition Facility)
Is it a glorious win or a crushing defeat if you beat your own record? In the National Ignition Facility's case (NIF - in Livermore, California), it’s a win, as they have succeeded in creating a 1.875 MJ (mega-joule) ultraviolet laser-shot at the facilities target chamber. This beat out their previous record of a scant 1.8 MJ record.
This isn’t all about breaking records, as the laser-pulse (at 23 billionths of a second) generating 411 trillion watts of power is meant to ignite nuclear fusion by hitting small (millimeters in size) frozen fuel pellets. The pressure generated inside the test chamber is astounding, as ignition of the pellets would create pressures 100 billion times that of earth with temperatures that would rival the sun at 100 million degrees!
The laser itself is actually 192 lasers housed in two separate locations that coalesce into 1 focal-point through the use of precision ground specially coated mirrors, and then shot at a central target (in this case frozen pellets). The scientist’s goal is to achieve more energy output than was used for a fusion reaction thus garnering a new power source that’s safer than traditional nuclear power plants. Will it ever happen? Maybe not, but the super-laser can be used in other applications that explore astro-physics, materials science (lasing different types of matter ie: apples and matchbox cars) as well as nuclear experiments (Manhattan Project?). No matter how the scientists use it, they still have the world’s most powerful laser, and that’s a success in itself.