Quantum physics is a field that appears to give scientists superpowers. Those who understand the world of extremely small or cold particles can perform amazing feats with them – including teleportation – that appear to bend reality.
“Demonstrating quantum effects such as teleportation outside of a lab environment involves a whole new set of challenges. This experiment shows how these challenges can all be overcome and hence it marks an important milestone towards the future quantum Internet.”
The science behind these feats is complicated, and until recently, didn’t exist outside of lab settings. But that’s changing: researchers have begun to implement quantum teleportation in real-world contexts. Being able to do so just might revolutionize modern phone and Internet communications, leading to highly secure, encrypted messaging.
Image above: This image shows crystals used for storing entangled photons, which behave as though they are part of the same whole. Scientists use crystals like these in quantum teleportation experiments. Image Credits: Félix Bussières/University of Geneva.
A paper published in Nature Photonics and co-authored by engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, details the first experiments with quantum teleportation in a metropolitan fiber cable network. For the first time, the phenomenon has been witnessed over long distances in actual city infrastructure. In Canada, University of Calgary researchers teleported the quantum state of a photon more than 3.7 miles (6 kilometers) in “dark” (unused) cables under the city of Calgary. That’s a new record for the longest distance of quantum teleportation in an actual metropolitan network.
“By using advanced superconducting detectors, we can use individual photons to efficiently communicate both classical and quantum information from space to the ground. We are planning to use more advanced versions of these detectors for demonstrations of optical communication from deep space and of quantum teleportation from the International Space Station.”
While longer distances had been recorded in the past, those were conducted in lab settings, where photons were fired through spools of cable to simulate the loss of signal caused by long distances. This latest series of experiments in Calgary tested quantum teleportation in actual infrastructure, representing a major step forward for the technology.
“Demonstrating quantum effects such as teleportation outside of a lab environment involves a whole new set of challenges. This experiment shows how these challenges can all be overcome and hence it marks an important milestone towards the future quantum Internet,” said Francesco Marsili, one of the JPL co-authors. “Quantum communication unlocks some of the unique properties of quantum mechanics to, for example, exchange information with ultimate security or link together quantum computers.”
“The superconducting detector platform, which has been pioneered by JPL and NIST researchers, makes it possible to detect single photons at telecommunications wavelengths with nearly perfect efficiency and almost no noise. This was simply not possible with earlier detector types, and so experiments such as ours, using existing fiber-infrastructure, would have been close to impossible without JPL’s detectors.”
Photon sensors for the experiment were developed by Marsili and Matt Shaw of JPL’s Microdevices Laboratory, along with colleagues at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, Boulder, Colorado. Their expertise was critical to the experiments: quantum networking is done with photons, and requires some of the most sensitive sensors in the world in order to know exactly what’s happening to the particle.
“The superconducting detector platform, which has been pioneered by JPL and NIST researchers, makes it possible to detect single photons at telecommunications wavelengths with nearly perfect efficiency and almost no noise. This was simply not possible with earlier detector types, and so experiments such as ours, using existing fiber-infrastructure, would have been close to impossible without JPL’s detectors,” said Daniel Oblak of the University of Calgary’s Institute for Quantum Science and Technology.
Safer emails using quantum physics
Shrink down to the level of a photon, and physics starts to play by bizarre rules. Scientists who understand those rules can “entangle” two particles so that their properties are linked. Entanglement is a mind-boggling concept in which particles with different characteristics, or states, can be bound together across space. That means whatever affects one particle’s state will affect the other, even if they’re located miles apart from one another.
This is where teleportation comes in. Imagine you have two entangled particles – let’s call them Photon 1 and Photon 2 – and Photon 2 is sent to a distant location. There, it meets with Photon 3, and the two interact with each other. Photon 3’s state can be transferred to Photon 2, and automatically “teleported” to the entangled twin, Photon 1. This disembodied transfer happens despite the fact that Photons 1 and 3 never interact. Read the rest of this entry »
Loren Grush reports: NASA’s Juno spacecraft has successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit, bringing it closer to the planet than any probe has come so far. The vehicle reached the gas giant’s north pole this evening, and NASA received confirmation that the vehicle had turned on its main engine at 11:18PM ET. The engine burned for 35 minutes, helping to slow the spacecraft down enough so that it was captured by Jupiter’s gravitational pull. NASA confirmed that the burn was successful at around 11:53PM ET and that Juno was in its intended 53-day orbit.
— NASA (@NASA) July 5, 2016
The orbit insertion was a bit of a nail biter for NASA, as the spacecraft had to travel through regions of powerful radiation and rings of debris surrounding Jupiter. As an added precaution, the probe’s instruments were turned off for the maneuver so that nothing would interfere with the engine burn. But everything seemed to work flawlessly, and NASA received confirmation of the burn’s success almost exactly as expected. The timing only differed by 1 second from pre-burn predictions.
That confirmation came 48 minutes after the event actually occurred, though. That’s because it currently takes 48 minutes to send a signal from Jupiter to Earth. Juno started its burn at around 10:30PM ET and finished at 11:05PM ET, but NASA didn’t confirm all of this until just before midnight. If something had gone wrong and stopped the burn too early, the space agency wouldn’t have been in a position to fix the problem. Read the rest of this entry »
Jennifer Ouellette reports: NASA’s Juno spacecraft has been spinning through space on its way to Jupiter for five years and 445 million miles, and now it’s less than 10 hours away from entering the gas giant’s orbit—the equivalent of a single rotation of Jupiter. If all goes well, scientists will finally be able to learn what lies beneath Jupiter’s turbulent atmosphere, examine its impressive magnetosphere, and possibly determine the composition of its core.
“If Juno gets hit even by a small piece of dust, it can do a great bit of damage,” he said. “We believe probability is incredibly low that Juno will hit dust or debris, but it’s not zero. Even a 10 micron particle could do some damage moving at the speed we’re moving.”
— Juno project manager Scott Bolton
But first, it’s going to have to execute a tricky 35-minute engine burn under the harshest conditions any NASA spacecraft has yet faced. And that has Juno mission scientists on edge today. They’ve modeled every scenario they can think of, and planned for every contingency. But as Juno project manager Scott Bolton said in this morning’s briefing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, “This is the highest risk phase.”
“We’ve done everything humanly possible to make this mission a success, but it’s still a cliffhanger,” said Jim Green, director of planetary science at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC.
Thus far, the mission has gone off without a hitch, but plenty could still go wrong. For instance, what if the main engine doesn’t fire on cue to start the burn, so far from the sun? “We’ve fired the main engine twice successfully and the third time should be a charm,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager. “But this is the first time we’ve ever fired the main engine at Jupiter. It’s make or break for us.”
Then there’s the intense radiation from Jupiter’s enormous magnetosphere. According to Heidi Becker, lead investigator for Juno’s radiation monitoring, this translates into millions of high energy electrons moving near the speed of light. “They will go right though the spacecraft,” she said. “It’s the equivalent of 100 million x-rays in less than a year for a human being if we had no protection.”
Juno’s polar orbit will avoid the worst of the radiation belts at the planet’s equator, but other high-intensity regions are unavoidable. Read the rest of this entry »
If you love stories about inspiring Americans, then wait till you hear about this guy.
His name is Evan Lowell, and he’s a 43-year-old marketing consultant from Pasadena, CA. You wouldn’t know it from looking at him, but Evan is a hero. And he’s doing his part to help the world in a really special way: Whenever Evan hears about a terrorist attack happening somewhere, he shakes his head.
Any time Evan hears about a bombing in Kabul or a shooting in Jerusalem, he immediately stops whatever he’s doing and solemnly shakes his head from side to side while letting out a brief, mournful sigh. Depending on the severity of the attack, he sometimes even says “Goddammit” or “Not again.” A humble hero determined…(read more)
For Space.com, Elizabeth Howell writes: A Swedish university student has created a design for an “International Flag of Planet Earth” that could be planted on alien worlds during future human exploration missions.
“The scientific study of flags is called vexillology, and the practice of designing flags is called vexillography. Both of these are an outcome of heraldry. In these practices there are different unofficial design rules/customs, about colors, placement, proportions, typography and aestethics in general. This proposal is accurate according to the regulations regarding flags.”
The student project, which Oskar Pernefeldt undertook for a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm, features several interlocked white circles on a blue background. (See more views of the International Flag of Planet Earth.)The flag is intended to remind people that we all share planet Earth, regardless of nationality, Pernefeldt said.
“Current expeditions in outer space use different national flags depending on which country is funding the voyage. The space travelers, however, are more than just representatives of their own countries. They are representatives of planet Earth,” Pernefeldt wrote on his project’s website.
And international cooperation will likely be a big part of any future human missions to Mars and other farflung destinations, not least because of the high costs associated with such an undertaking, exploration advocates say. Read the rest of this entry »
Curiosity’s handlers sent no commands to the rover for most of April, because Mars was on the opposite side of the sun from Earth at the time. But this planetary alignment, known as a Mars solar conjunction, is now over, and the mission team is planning to drill into a Red Planet rock soon and then send Curiosity off on an epic, miles-long trek to the base of a huge and mysterious mountain.
“A couple of weeks to move to the site and drill, and then the experiments themselves can take also a couple of weeks — that’s about the time scale we’re looking at,” said Curiosity deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “And then we’d hopefully get going.”
He stressed, however, that this timeframe could shift depending on how the drilling operation goes, and what Curiosity discovers.
Curiosity healthy after ‘spring break’
The Curiosity rover wasn’t idle during conjunction. It continued monitoring Martian weather and radiation and perfomed some relatively simple science work using commands sent up in advance, Vasavada said.
“That all went fine — it kind of executed flawlessly a long set of preplanned activities,” he told SPACE.com. “We had never planned 30 days at once [before], so that was a relief.”
But things have picked up since mission controllers got back in touch with Curiosity late last week. They’ve already uploaded a minor software update to the rover, which emerged from conjunction in fine health, Vasavada said.
Curiosity continues to operate on its backup, or B-side, computer, which it switched to after a glitch knocked out its primary computer (or A-side) in late February.
The rover team has still not fully figured out what happened to the A-side, but engineers have made significant troubleshooting progress. For example, Curiosity would have been OK if an issue during conjunction had forced the rover to swap back over to the A-side computer, Vasavada said.
Drilling another hole
The rover team has already checked off this primary goal, announcing in March that a spot dubbed Yellowknife Bay was indeed habitable billions of years ago. Scientists reached this conclusion after studying Curiosity’s analyses of material pulled from a 2.5-inch-deep (6.4 centimeters) hole the rover drilled into a Red Planet outcrop.
Now that conjunction’s over, the mission team wants to drill another hole in a nearby rock, to confirm and perhaps extend the exciting results gleaned from the first drilling activity.
“Probably in the next week or two, we will slightly move the rover to a new location, which the science team is actively choosing right now,” Vasavada said. “Primarily, it will be to duplicate the results from the first hole, because they were so exciting and, in some cases, unexpected that the people who run the experiments just want to make sure it’s really correct before writing all the papers up.” Read the rest of this entry »
— NASA (@NASA) August 22, 2014
From a great tumblr site, spaceexp: This chart provides a comparison of the distances driven by various wheeled vehicles on the surface of Mars and Earth’s moon. Of the vehicles shown, NASA’s Mars rovers Opportunity and Curiosity are still active and the totals listed are distances driven as of July 28, 2014. Read the rest of this entry »
— NASA (@NASA) June 29, 2014
For CBS Space News, William Harwood writes: A giant helium balloon lifted a 3.5-ton flying saucer-shaped research vehicle to an altitude of more than 23 miles Saturday and released it for a dramatic rocket-powered boost through the extreme upper atmosphere to test an inflatable doughnut-like braking system and a huge supersonic parachute needed for future missions to Mars.
The inflatable aero-brake appeared to work normally in live video downlinked from the test vehicle, but the parachute, the largest ever built for deployment at more than twice the speed of sound, failed to fully inflate in a disappointment for flight controllers with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“PI (principle investigator) has called ‘no chute.’ We don’t have full chute inflation,” a flight controller reported.
The Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator then fell toward impact in the Pacific Ocean northwest of Hawaii. The carrier balloon apparently came apart after the LDSD’s release and it was not immediately clear what recovery crews standing by in the landing zone might be able to retrieve.
In any case, the test flight appeared to meet all of its major objectives but one and engineers are hopeful recorded telemetry will shed light on what went wrong with the parachute deploy. Read the rest of this entry »
— NASA (@NASA) June 2, 2014
A small asteroid about the size of a mobile home zipped by Earth at a range closer than the moon early Saturday (May 3), but posed no threat to our planet.
The newly discovered asteroid 2014 HL129 came within 186,000 miles (299,338 kilometers) of Earth when it made its closest approach on Saturday morning, which is close enough to pass between the planet and the orbit of the moon. The average distance between the Earth and moon is about 238,855 miles (384,400 km).
You can watch a video animation of asteroid 2014 HL129’s orbit around the sun on Space.com. The asteroid is about 25 feet (7.6 meters) wide, according to NASA’s Asteroid Watch project based at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. It made its closest approach to Earth at 4:13 a.m. EDT (0813 GMT). Read the rest of this entry »
PASADENA, Calif. – NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has used autonomous navigation for the first time, a capability that lets the rover decide for itself how to drive safely on Mars.
This latest addition to Curiosity’s array of capabilities will help the rover cover the remaining ground en route to Mount Sharp, where geological layers hold information about environmental changes on ancient Mars. The capability uses software that engineers adapted to this larger and more complex vehicle from a similar capability used by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which is also currently active on Mars.