China's Micius satellite has successfully transmitted information using entangled photons at a distance of 1,200 km (746 mi), smashing the quantum teleportation record of 100 km (62) set by NIST researchers nearly two years ago, Digital Journal reports.
Quantum entanglement is a phenomenon that is as complex as it is mystifying, involving the linking of groups or pairs of particles which can only be described in association with each other. Albert E. Einstein referred to the process as "spooky action at a distance." And it's just as well, considering that quantum entanglement violates the fundamental laws of general relativity, particularly the notion that nothing can travel faster than light.
Launched in August 2016 by QUESS (Quantum Experiments at Space Scale program), China's Micius satellite was designed to function as a global quantum communication network, as reported by Economic Times. While it's mathematically possible to transmit entangled photons via laser beams, scientists are faced with the difficult task of keeping the lines of communication aligned. Before QUESS launched the Micius satellite, the only way scientists can transmit entangled photons was through optical fibers. Optical fibers, however, are vulnerable to interference, making it difficult for scientists to establish a quantum communication network capable of transmitting over very long distances.
"It will be like tossing a coin from a plane at 100,000 meters above the sea level exactly into the slot of a rotating piggy bank," Wang Jianyu, QUESS's chief commander, said last August when the Chinese satellite was launched.
Chinese scientists from QUESS managed to figure out how to make the seemingly-impossible task of transmitting quantum-entangled photons over large distances possible. By making the laser beam on the satellite pass through a beam splitter, two polarizing states are created: one for sending entangled photons and one for receiving them. The Micius satellite then dispatches entangled photons to three receiving satellites over a distance 12 times larger than the previous record.
"For quantum networking, in this work, we have already achieved a two-photon entanglement distribution efficiency a trillion times more efficient than using the best telecommunication fibers," said Jian-Wei Pan, lead researcher of the project.China's major breakthrough opens vast possibilities for a state-of-the-art quantum communication network that allows faster and more secure telecommunications. Essentially, entangled photons' sensitivity to interference can actually work to their advantage: when hackers try to steal the information, the signal immediately becomes unreadable and alerts the users to the presence of the hack. While China is behind United States and Russia in terms of space technology, the U.S. Defense Department has expressed concern that it will utilize its space technology to prevent rival countries from using space-based assets in the event of a crisis, as reported by Space Intel Report.
[Featured Image by Natali art collection/Shutterstock]