Scientists have successfully transmitted entangled photons between a satellite and Earth

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Quantum entanglement was once considered to be something of a fringe theory in the world of physics with Einstein famously referring to it disparagingly as ‘spooky action at a distance’.

But attitudes towards quantum entanglement have changed a great deal since the time of Einstein. Not only are scientists now convinced that it is real but they have also managed to monitor its effects over larger distances than ever before.

Quantum entanglement is a strange phenomenon which is not yet fully understood by the scientific community. Essentially quantum entanglement is when two particles interact with one another and continue to have an effect on each other’s state no matter how far apart they are separated in distance.

Over the years, scientists have found that they can use quantum entanglement to make two particles respond to one another’s movements over a long distance and now they are keen to understand just how this process works and what applications it could have, both theoretically and practically.

Until very recently, physicists interested in the effects of quantum entanglement have only managed to distribute particles over a distance of 100 kilometres along optical fibres. While they are sure that the particles will remain entangled no matter what the distance it is difficult to keep track of the particles over such vast distances as they are very likely to be lost in the fibres.

Juan Yin of the Science and Technology University of China in Shanghai assembled a team with the intention of solving this problem. The team used Micius for their experiments. Micius is the world’s first quantum enabled satellite which is capable of transmitting entangled photons across vast distances.

The team used a beam splitter to transmit the entangled photons across a distance of 1200 kilometres which were tracked by ground stations scattered across China. According to Yin, the photons remained entangled as they crossed this vast distance. In a research paper discussing the study he wrote, “The result again confirms the nonlocal feature of entanglement and excludes the models of reality that rest on the notions of locality and realism.”

The success of the study means that scientists investigating the quantum entanglement phenomenon are likely to begin to use lasers rather than optical fibres in their experiments in the future. The approach of the Chinese team is considered to be superior to using optical fibres as most of the transmission path is contained within a vacuum so there is much less chance of the particles becoming lost and untraceable. “Even if perfect optical fibres were produced in the future, our satellite-based method would still be four to eight orders of magnitude more efficient, “the team explained.

It is hoped that greater advances in understanding quantum entanglement will open up a myriad of applications for the phenomenon in the future. Physicists are already playing with the idea that entanglement could be used to create communications networks and secure payment systems in the near future.

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