These days, scientific advances are beginning to sound more and more like science fiction.
A team of researchers and physicists in China announced that they have successfully teleported a photon (a particle) of light from Earth to space, spanning a distance of more than 300 miles. "You should be super excited about this," says Brian Greene, a professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University. "It's a crazy, wonderful thing that we can do this nowadays."
The satellite, Micius, that "received" the photon of light
But is this like "apparating" wizards in Harry Potter or "beaming" people in Star Trek? Before you start dreaming of teleportation to take you to school because you woke up late, let's talk about what this all really means.
This type of teleportation doesn't involve literally taking the object and teleporting it from one location to the other, instead, it at deals with the spooky properties of quantum mechanics. Professor Greene says that instead of the photon traveling from one place to another, it's the information on the particle teleporting. Crazy, right?
Let's break it down.
The scientists had two photons: one on Earth at a station in Tibet and one on the satellite Micius, currently in orbit around the Earth. These two photons are what quantum physicists called "entangled," that is, they are linked through a mysterious link. If you know the state and properties of one of the entangled photons, you know the information on the other particle.
Actions done on one photon immediately change the other photon, too. Weird right? Even renowned physicist Albert Einstein called it "spooky action."
With further research and experimenting, quantum entanglement could make a future of teleportation possible.
Then, the scientists brought in a third photon, the one they wanted to teleport. They had the third photon interact with the original photon on Earth. Measuring and comparing the properties of the two photons currently on Earth, they were able to "transform" the photon in space into the third photon, all because of that spooky action. Essentially, they used these two entangled photons to teleport a different one with entirely different properties into space. This distance of over 300 miles is the farthest distance of quantum entanglement recorded.
The impossibility of teleportation is shattered, and now this work opens up a future of infinite possibilities. Through (a lot, a lot, a lot) of future experimenting, we could teleport information on a much more rapid scale in the world of quantum computing, and maybe even take to teleporting larger objects in the future.
This impressive feat not only sets the stage for future ambitious goals in the quantum internet, but it also showed China's dominance in a field that was previously led by the USA and Europe. Now others are wondering how the West will respond. Will it be similar to the Space Race, or will an even bigger, innovative project take place? We are still waiting for an answer.
Wait, so that means that in terms of quantum entanglement, if you were to teleport from New York to Los Angeles, all of the information down to each little particle would practically be copied to Los Angeles, then destroyed in New York!
But don't get too excited, we're still a long ways to go from human teleportation.
Like Brian Greene says, "Don't hold your breath, it's an infinitesimal step."
Who knows? Maybe we will live in a world like Star Trek someday.