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Scientists teleport photons 300 miles into space
Published on: 2017-07-17
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051Chinese scientists have teleported an object from Earth to a satellite orbiting 300 miles away in space, in a demonstration that has echoes of science fiction.


The feat sets a new record for quantum teleportation, an eerie phenomenon in which the complete properties of one particle are instantaneously transferred to another - in effect teleporting it to a distant location.


Scientists have hailed the advance as a significant step towards the goal of creating an unhackable quantum internet.

050China's Micius satellite blasts off from Jiuquan in Gansu on 16 August 2016. Photons were beamed from a ground station in Ngari in Tibet to Micius, which is in orbit 300 miles above Earth.


"Space-scale teleportation can be realised and is expected to play a key role in the future distributed quantum internet," the authors, led by Professor Chao-Yang Lu from the University of Science and Technology of China, wrote in the paper.


The work may bring to mind Scotty beaming up the Enterprise crew in Star Trek, but there is no prospect of humans being able to materialise instantaneously at remote locations any time soon. The teleportation effect is limited to quantum-scale objects, such as fundamental particles.

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In the experiment, photons were beamed from a ground station in Ngari in Tibet to China's Micius satellite, which is in orbit 300 miles above Earth.


The research hinged on a bizarre effect known as quantum entanglement, in which pairs of particles are generated simultaneously meaning they inhabit a single, shared quantum state. Counter-intuitively, this twinned existence continues, even when the particles are separated by vast distances: any change in one will still affect the other.

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Scientists can exploit this effect to transfer information between the two entangled particles. In quantum teleportation, a third particle is introduced and entangled with one of the original pair, in such a way that its distant partner assumes the exact state of the third particle.


For all intents and purposes, the distant particle takes on the identity of the new particle that its partner has interacted with.


Quantum teleportation could be harnessed to produce a new form of communication network, in which information would be encoded by the quantum states of entangled photons, rather than strings of 0s and 1s. The huge security advantage would be that it would be impossible for an eavesdropper to measure the photons' states without disturbing them and revealing their presence.


A number of teams, including the European Space Agency and Canadian scientists, have similar quantum-enabled satellites in development, but the latest results suggest China is leading the way in this field.

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