Published September 27, 2017
For the first time, scientists have successfully teleported a photon from the ground to a satellite in orbit.
It’s been 20 years since quantum scientists successfully teleported a photon over 10 miles, proving that quantum entanglement — a process that Albert Einstein called “spooky action at a distance” -- was possible.
The very unnatural phenomenon occurs when two quantum objects, such as photons, share a wave function. Since they come into existence at the exact same time and place, they share the same identity, even when separated. What happens to one happens to the other — wherever it exists.
In 2010, a team at the University of Science and Technology of China in Shanghai set a record by teleporting photons over 60 miles on Earth.
And now, just seven years later, they’ve outdone themselves, teleporting protons from a ground station in Tibet, 2½ miles above sea level, to a satellite orbiting Earth more than 310 miles away.
It marks the first time an object has been teleported from our planet into space.
Last year, China launched a research satellite called Micius into a sun-synchronous orbit, meaning it passes over the same point on Earth at the same time every day. Chinese scientists then created thousands of entangled pairs of photons and beamed one photon from each pair to Micius. After measuring both photons, they confirmed that 911 on Micius remained entangled with their companions on Earth.
They’re more than identical twins. The two are one and the same.
And, theoretically, the sky isn’t the limit. Photons are fragile; when they interact with matter on Earth and in Earth’s atmosphere, they lose entanglement. But in the vacuum of space, they can extend infinitely.
And while the process won’t exactly succeed in making Captain Kirk demolecularize on the Starship Enterprise and remolecularize on a planet below, it has the potential nonetheless to change the world as we know it. Quantum teleportation is seen as the basis for unimaginably high-speed communication and foolproof cryptography. Since the two objects are not twins but actually the same object, what happens to one happens instantaneously to the other.
Beam that up, Scottie.