Scientists have successfully teleported something into space for the first time ever.
The experiment saw Chinese scientists send a photon up away from Earth, further than ever before.
Teleportation of this kind uses the bizarre effects of quantum entanglement, rather than physically hurling the object itself over distances. Instead it transfers the information about a photon to another point in space – creating a faithful replication of the object.
It marks the first ever time that effect has been tested over long distances. The success could bring with it a whole range of uses – including a quantum internet that connects different parts of the world at seemingly impossible speed.
But the new test saw scientists’ teleport up to a satellite. That is likely to be the way that such teleportation will work in practice – sending objects up to space and then back down again to wherever they are needed, since it means there are relatively clear paths between all of the different points.
Teleportation has become fairly common on the Earth, where scientists can instantly shoot information about photons over small distances. But the new study moves towards making that effect more practically useful.
"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, which has been published online.
The satellite itself – named Micius after an ancient Chinese philosopher – was sent up from the Gobi desert last year, by the team in charge of the project. It dropped off the rocket that carried it to space and it has been in orbit above the Earth ever since.
Micius itself can receive photons and is sensitive enough to catch and spot them; the team on the ground had kit that could send those photons up into space. Together, that kit could allow the scientists to test how the team on Earth was able to interact with photons floating way above our planet.
It works by harnessing the strange effects of quantum entanglement, which Einstein described as "spooky action at a distance". The effect describes the behavior where particles seem to act on each other instantly and in bizarre ways.
That entanglement is not constrained by distances, meaning that two particles can interact despite being a very long way apart. Scientists hope to be able to use that effect for their own ends, including sending messages that are received far more quickly than using traditional means, for example.
Until now, experiments had been restricted to short distances because of problems with the wires or signals that would carry the information.