In a First, Photons are ‘Teleported’ from Earth to Space

By Nathaniel Scharping | July 11, 2017 3:32 pm
A station used for receiving information from the satellite. A station in Tibet used for communicating with the satellite. (Credit: Xinhua/Jin Liwang)

A station used for receiving information from the satellite. (Credit: Xinhua/Jin Liwang)

Chinese researchers have successfully transmitted quantum entangled particles from a station on earth to a satellite orbiting far overhead.

The experiment is part of an ongoing effort by researchers using the Micius satellite to achieve long-distance quantum communication, a feat that would yield hacker-proof information networks. In this most recent work, researchers from the University of Science and Technology of China beamed photons to the satellite and transmitted the state of other photons on the ground using entanglement. Transferring these so-called “qubits” allows information to be relayed securely and instantaneously.

Tied Together

When a particle is entangled with another, everything that happens to one affects the other. How this happens is unknown, but the effect has been confirmed in multiple experiments. Scientists had previously only been able to use the phenomenon to transmit information less than a hundred miles — any further and atmospheric conditions or imperfections in the fiber optic cables cause too much distortion. The effect is often called quantum teleportation, but its a bit of a misnomer. Unlike science fiction teleportation devices, nothing physical is being transported, just information about the state of a photon.

Transmitting the photons through space, where there is no atmospheric distortion, makes for a much easier task. Last month, researchers reported using the satellite to beam information down to Earth, and now they’ve completed the other leg of the journey. From a mountaintop station in Nepal, they transmitted a beam of photons to the satellite as it passed directly overhead, a distance of some 300 miles. They kept the other half of the entangled pair on earth, and by measuring them both, confirmed the quantum link held.

Completing the Circle

Transmitting particles from Earth to a satellite is a bit more difficult than sending them back, because they start out in the turbulent atmosphere. This means that any slight deviations in their course will have a greater effect over the entire distance. The researchers compensate with a series of technical refinements including an extra-bright source for photon entanglement and a very narrow laser. They detailed their work in a paper published this month to the preprint server the arXiv.

It’s another step forward along the path to quantum networks, but there’s more work to do. As with other quantum teleportation experiments, the fidelity was extremely low. Of the millions of photons sent over the course of a month, only 911 actually made it, meaning that the rate of actual information transfer is extremely low at the moment. But, with the proof-of-concept established, technology will likely to improve to the point where we one day may all be emailing over quantum linkages.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
  • dannyR

    ‘ Transferring these so-called “qubits” allows information to be relayed securely and instantaneously.
    No it doesn’t.

    ‘The effect is often called quantum teleportation, but its a bit of a misnomer.’
    Then stop the clickbait.

    • Denis Curtin

      I was waiting for the usual disclaimer that they always (reluctantly) throw into these type of stories… basically letting us know that the laws of physics were still in effect. Never came this time…LoL.

    • doug masnaghetti

      The entire journalistic world has fallen to innumeracy and ignorance. BBC news is a premier provider of intellectual sewage.

    • Carlos Osuna

      Sorry guys, but I think you don’t really know what they are talking about.

      This is mostly theoretical physics but Discover Magazine is, of course, doing extrapolation to it’s uses.

      1) Information with quantum entanglement could theoretically be transferred securely and instantaneously, since the quantum state is maintained no matter the distance. Of course, this doesn’t break science but Einstein and several other doubted it existed.

      2) The teleportation is also, of course, clickbating. These effect is akin to it, but since real teleportation isn’t defined yet, this might be the wall to achieve it.

      3) The Kremlin is actually winning because they invested heavily in what in America they call STEM careers, not service or finance. Today, hacking and cryptocurrencies are the new forms of creating value and ex soviet republics are in advantage as they have excess of scientific and technological adept jobless people.

      So no… knowledge isn’t going out, but rather it’s just shifting to places where people don’t put in doubt science just because they don’t like what they see. Paradigms are built to be destroyed and as Thomas Kuhn once said “you can’t describe a new paradigm using an older one.”

    • Arthur Scott

      Quantum Tunneling has been around and played with for awhile but never at such a distance.
      We performed it in the lab frequently

  • OWilson

    The problem with “spooky action at a distance” is always that to verify that the photons have indeed “changed state” it requires traditional communications to beam the entangled photons to the satellite, and back to the transmitting site for confirmation.

    That’s like spending billions to build factories to manufacture solar panels, ship them, install them, maintain and repair them, connect them to the grid, and then claim you can get “free power” from the sun!

    There’s no free lunch in science!

  • Arkham Razors

    So refreshing to see the first three comments (dannyR, Denis Curtin and OWilson) accurately reflect actual science and intelligent thought. That’s getting too rare these days.

    • jonathanpulliam

      Your perception is very weak and discerns poorly.

  • 351cleavland .

    This “article” has been posted on 3 different publications’ web pages and there are no names to link with the claims. Also, this is the only one of the three that cites a place where the experiment originated, “University of Science and Technology of China .” There is a mention of “arXiv” without any date or page or web address of publication. If this is real, the journalism is surprising poor given the massive implication with a breakthrough like this one. Three different articles with little to no citation? This smells of actual fake news. If its not, this reeks of very poor journalism.

  • Mark Thomason

    In answer to the question, “why don’t we hear alien civilizations” perhaps it is because we can’t do this yet, or things like it. They would not be limited by the speed of light, which in those realms is slow, not fast.

  • Rex Havoc

    Ho Ho Ho. it’s almost as amazing as when Donner and Blitzen transport me to chimneys all around the world in one night.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar