Some scientists in China have managed to teleport an object from Earth to a satellite that is in space orbit more than 500 kilometers above Earth. The scientific breakthrough which was announced recently has broken the record of the distance of teleportation between two points. They’re not the first to teleport anything as experiments have been run in laboratories and over small distances. However, they are the first to teleport something into space, well sort of.
Why do I say sort of?
Teleportation as we all imagine or have seen being depicted in science fiction movies is very hard. We imagine a person stepping into glass cylinder or container and they get scanned. The next thing we know, they’ve disappeared from one portal and appear in a second cylinder or portal in a different area.
This traditional view of teleportation is still far from becoming a reality. However, the scientists managed to teleport a particle called a photon from Earth to a satellite called Micius which is one of the most sensitive photon receivers available. Now it wasn’t ‘real’ teleportation because the particle on Earth didn’t disapper and appear in space.
This is why I said sort of earlier, what they did is actually transfer information about the Earth photon to something on space which was blank which then got that information and became the Earth photon. All this was possible because of quantum entanglement.
When any two of the smallest amounts of any physical quantity (quantum), such as energy or matter, come into existence at the same instance in time and the same point in space, they share the existence. This sharing of existence is what is then referred to as quantum entanglement.
This field of science is not new as way back in the 1990s, scientists knew that they could use this quantum entanglement phenomenon to transmit information between one point to another anywhere in the universe. Even-though some may have said that achieving this was beyond the capabilities of that era, it didn’t stop the scientists from running experiments.
In 2012, the an out of lab teleportation was achieved which set a record of 143 km. Last year 2 separate teams managed to conduct a quantum teleportation using their respective city’s fibreoptic which simulated how it could be used in the real world for communication purposes.
Yeah that sounds good but how does it work…
Up to this point, we haven’t really talked about how it is working so let’s get to that. We’ve mentioned quantum and entanglement the concepts that will help us understand this. Let’s us a real world example to kind of illustrate how quantum entanglement might work.
Now when two objects are quantum entangled, it means that whatever measurement that happens on one will affect the other. Picture this, two gloves are made at the exact instance in time and the exact point in space. From what we’ve seen, this means that these two gloves are quantum entangled. Forgive me for breaking the definition of quantum as gloves are not the smallest physical quantity but it’s to help us understand.
So we’ve got these gloves that share an existence but they’re put in different boxes and we don’t know which box has the right hand or left hand glove. One box gets sent to the moon and another stays on Earth. The only way we can know what kind of glove is on the moon (in terms of being right or left hand) is by opening the box that’s on Earth. The moment we know that the Earth glove is right handed, it means the moon glove if left handed as a pair of gloves can only be in that combination ( 1 left and 1 right).
It can’t be that easy right?
Yeah. The problem with this is that we cannot then transmit the Earth’s gloves information as it is now defined and that affects the state of the moon one. Mathematicians and smart people discovered that there was a way to sneakily observe one of the boxes without fully knowing what exactly is in there.
By getting the little information that comes from that observation, they can then use complex equations and probability to accurately determine what’s inside. The good thing here is that they haven’t fully opened the box so whatever is inside is not fully known to them but they’ve taken a very educated guess. This means that there’s still a chance of getting a left glove in the Earth box.
Using our example, if we just replace gloves with one of the smallest particles – a photon – then that’s almost how it works. After making their calculations, scientists can then beam the information to the photon in space. Since that space photon hasn’t been observed, then it will happily accept the information and become the Earth photon in every sense with slight variations.
But what happens to the Earth photon? Will it still exist? If it does then which one will be the real one…. Well after doing all this, the Earth photon’s information will be left scrambled and it will no longer be anything like what it was.
The bigger picture
It is not as simple as it looks because I’ve just painted the picture of what it’s all about and not in full detail. However, this breakthrough is huge as it solidifies that the once concept can be made a reality. Some application could be long distance communication like sending information to a space ship instantly or beaming down Internet access to everyone on Earth from space. Such discovering and experiments will change the information technology industry and could even affect the way we travel one day.
It’d be interesting to know how some Zimbabwean are looking into the future and positioning themselves to leverage what is coming.