It's no Harry-Potter-style apparition, but we're still impressed: Researchers in China have found a way to transmit particles from the ground to a satellite orbiting more than 300 miles above the planet. They described the process in a new paper shared on the preprint server arXiv.
When we think about teleportation, we often think of the fantastic or futuristic plot device in which a person vanishes in one place and reappears, fully formed, in another. Quantum teleportation is sort of like that. But instead of sending a whole, solid person, quantum teleportation sends information about a quantum particle—such complete information that a new version of the particle can be created on the other end.
The process relies on what's known as quantum entanglement. That's when two particles are connected by a bond so strong that altering one particle will alter the other, even when those particles are separated by inches, or oceans, or space. It's a phenomenon so strange that Albert Einstein called it "spooky action at a distance."
Scientists have been tapping into this spooky action for some time now, transmitting photons and other particles (or their informational essence, anyway) from Point A to Point B. But until now, Point B has always been here, on Earth.
The Micius satellite, named for a 4th-century BCE Chinese philosopher, was launched from the desert sands of the Gobi in 2016. Aboard the satellite, which runs only at night, researchers had tucked a receiving device. If it worked, the receiver would transform the satellite into a very special Point B.
Researchers set up Point A at a ground station in Tibet and spent a month trying to get their photons to teleport. They made millions of attempts and succeeded not once, but more than 900 times. Instruments aboard Micius recorded the appearance of new photon after new photon.
While this success may not get us closer toward wizarding-style transportation, it's a huge leap forward in the ability to rapidly transmit information.
"This work establishes the first ground-to-satellite up-link for faithful and ultra-long-distance quantum teleportation, an essential step toward global-scale quantum internet," the scientists write in their paper.
In other words: One day, we might be complaining because our quantum internet is too slow. Stranger things have happened.
[h/t The Independent]