Chinese scientists just made history by teleporting something all the way from the Earth’s surface to a satellite named Micius in our planet’s orbit!
Now, keep in mind that at its most basic definition, teleportation refers to the transfer of matter or energy from one place to another. In quantum optics, teleportation allows photons, the elementary particles of energy that make up light and electromagnetic radiation to essentially be transported from one area to another.
Photons can be teleported through a process known as entanglement. In entanglement, two quantum objects (in this case photons) form at the same instant and point in space. The two photons are completely identical in terms of wavelength, shape, and energy signature. They share an existence, so to speak.
Now, the really crazy thing is that both photons will keep matching each other perfectly, even if they are separated over great distances. A change in one will affect the other in completely the same way, no matter how far apart they might be. Since the two photons will keep mirroring each other, they can effectively be used to swap data and measurements across the universe. You can retrieve as much information as you need from the first photon and all of it will translate to the second.
Unfortunately, photons are fickle things, and contact with matter can cause the entanglement connection to be broken.
The Chinese scientists had to make sure Micius was orbiting around the launch site at precisely 500 kilometers. They even built their ground station at a high altitude to minimize the distance between the two sites. Entangling thousands of photons, they would beam one up to Micius every night at midnight (when it would be directly above them).
In order to verify that the photons had in fact teleported, the ground photons were measured with those that reached the station.
Sending millions of photons over a period of about a month, they recorded 911 successful teleportations. With this grand gesture, China has demonstrated itself to be something of a pioneer in quantum technology. The photons have broken two records: they have teleported further than any other, and they are the first object to be teleported into space.
The team believes “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.” Energy and information might one day be teleported all around the universe in this way. Don’t expect humans or anything larger than a photon to be teleported in this lifetime.
It’s also worth mentioning that Micius was an ancient Chinese philosopher who believed in self-restraint and authenticity, two tenets that the teleported photons are meant to follow.