The World's Largest Solar Furnace, France / by Alastair Wiper

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The first time I saw the Odeillo Solar Furnace was in an article called "the 10 strangest buildings in the world" or something like that. I was amazed and I knew that I just had to go there and see it for myself. So at the end of August 2012 I set off on a pilgrimage to this weird and wonderful building in the French Pyrenees.

Built by engineer Felix Trombe and opened in 1970, the solar furnace works on the same principle as its older, smaller brother just down the road at Mont-Louis; the sun's energy is reflected on a series of mirrors and concentrated on one very small point to create extremely high temperatures. It is still used by space agencies like NASA and ESA, scientists, and technology companies to research the effects of extremely high temperatures on certain materials for nuclear reactors and space vehicle reentry, and to produce hydrogen and nanoparticles. In the photos below, the white box in front of the building is where the sun's rays are focused onto a point about the size of a cooking pot, where temperatures reach 3,500 °C.

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