Scientists have achieved a world record in the strange world of quantum teleportation.
In a study that sounds like something out of Star Trek, researchers have managed to teleport packets of light over 60 miles (100km) of optical fiber.
The research could have implications for cryptography, which involves transmitting information securely, including communications between Earth and spacecraft.
Quantum teleportation depends on a phenomenon called quantum entanglement.
This allows connections to be made between atoms, with their information being sent to others farther away.
In particular, the entangled particles are connected in such a way that the action of one directly affects the others, even if they’re separated over large distances.
Albert Einstein called this ‘spooky action at a distance.’
Previous studies have shown atoms teleporting across a room, and light being teleported across the Danube River in Austria.
In 2014, physicists at the University of Geneva teleported the quantum state of a photon to a crystal over 15 miles (25km) of optical fibre.
The latest study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has managed to teleport light particles at four times that distance.
‘What’s exciting is that we were able to carry out quantum teleportation over such a long distance,’ study co-author Martin Stevens, a quantum optics researcher at the NIST in Boulder, Colorado, told Live Science.
The record was set using advanced single-photon detectors made of superconducting wires of molybdenum silicide.
‘We never could have done this experiment without these new detectors, which can measure this incredibly weak signal,’ said Stevens.
It could prove useful in both quantum communications and quantum computing, which offer prospects for capabilities such as unbreakable encryption and advanced code-breaking, respectively.
The researchers stress that their experiment is fundamentally different than Star Trek’s transporter.
The transporter teleports matter by converting matter into a signal for transport, and then converting the signal back to matter at some other location.
But earlier this month, a renowned theoretical physicist said technology such as this could pave the way for a Star Trek-style teleporter.
Professor Michio Kaku said that the breakthroughs needed to transport humans instantly have already been made.
He believes a teleporter could become a reality as soon as the end of the century and it’s only a matter of time before we will be ‘beaming’ across the universe.
The physicist is a professor at City University in New York.
‘You know the expression ‘Beam me up Scotty’? We used to laugh at it,’ said the City University professor.
‘We used to laugh when someone talked about teleportation, but we don’t laugh anymore.’
‘Quantum teleportation already exists [and] I think within a decade we will teleport the first molecule.’
He continued that, as humans we already do this at an atomic level, reports The Express.
Once scientists have successfully teleported molecules, Dr Kaku believes the next step will be to send photons to a lunar base before experimenting with larger objects, animals and eventually humans.