Science Fiction has proposed instant communication across vast distances for years, and now scientists are experimenting with a quantum entanglement device that could make this fiction a reality.
Quantum entanglement, once described by Albert Einstein as “spooky action at a distance,” occurs when the entanglement connects two certain particles, like photons, so that the one’s actions are reflected on the other. This interaction happens near instantaneously and over any distance.
“According to quantum physics, entanglement is independent of distance,” Rupert Ursin, a co-author of the study from the Austrian Academy of Sciences, said in an interview with the Institute of Physics. “Our proposed Bell-type experiment will show that particles are entangled, over large distances – around 500 kilometers – for the very first time in an experiment.”
The proposal, published in the New Journal of Physics, plans on using the space station’s existing features with an added photon detector module to test the entanglement’s limits.
Olivier Nsengiyumva, a senior Oklahoma Christian University student, said physics is separated into two categories.
“There’s what we call classical physics, which is movement, mechanics,” Nsengiyumva said. “Then Quantum physics… quantum physics goes to the atomic level.”
The Bell experiment, a test of quantum entanglement, would assess theoretical contradictions between the predictions of quantum mechanics and classical physics. The experiment would also include a quantum key distribution experiment that would use the space station as a relay point to send an encryption key across much larger distances than have previously been achieved.
During the experiment, a pair of entangled photons would be created on Earth. One entangled photon would be sent from a ground station to the photon detector module aboard the International Space Station, while the other would be measured on the ground to compare later.
Ursin said the space station is the perfect spot for the experimentation.
“During a few months a year, the ISS passes five to six times in a row in the correct orientation for us to do our experiments,” Ursin said. “We envision setting up the experiment for a whole week and therefore having more than enough links to the ISS available.”
The experiment could potentially allow the development of the first global quantum communication network.
The scientists began looking into space-based tests to combat the chance of atmospheric interference for quantum communication.
Why are quantum communications important?
Quantum communication could ultimately provide a near-perfect level of security in communications.
“Let’s say that I want to send a message to New York City,” Alex Knapp said in his Forbes article on the subject. “My message is going to travel through normal channels, but it will be encrypted with a key. That key is transmitted via the entangled photons – so the changes I make to entangled particles on my end almost instantly show up in the particles in New York,” Knapp said. “We then compare the measurements of what I changed in my photons to those states in New York City.”
Both parties would receive the key and without it, even if the communications are bugged, the message can’t be read.
If someone did try to eavesdrop on the quantum entanglement message, the spin of the photons would be altered, changing both ends of the message of the intrusion.
As of now, the proposal is only a proposal and not yet enacted. But if approved, the proposal could be initiated with relative ease.