Added by Erik West on March 8, 2013
Physics researchers conducted an experiment that resulted in a transfer of information at least four times faster than the speed of light – breaking a long held and proven theory that nothing travels faster than the speed of light.
“Relativity, or the Theory of Relativity, created by Albert Einstein in the early 1900s is the basis of our understanding of things like nuclear energy, black holes, and gravity. The smartphone in your pocket could not have been invented, much less even understood, without Relativity. One of Relativity’s key concepts is that the speed of light is the fastest anything can go – be it light itself, or information, like radio waves, or the 1s and 0s that flow through computers.
“With this experiment, the researchers have shown that information traveled at a speed of about four times faster than the speed of light – essentially breaking the ‘rule’ that nothing can go faster than the speed of light. This presents a significant challenge since it puts into question our understanding of things like Quantum mechanics,” explained a researcher.
The researchers’ experiment measured a phenomenon called ‘spooky action at a distance’ – the interaction of objects separated in space or separated by a distance. The objects in this case are photons, the elementary particles that make up light.
The researchers said the experiment could have practical application in fields like communications. Our ability to communicate over large distances is limited by the speed of light. For example, Mars is so far from the Earth that it takes about 20 minutes for radio signals to reach the rovers on Mars, making ‘instant’ communication impossible. However, the results of this research could fundamentally change communications over large distances.
“This won’t have any effect on your cell phone calls or your phone calls to relatives or friends across the globe, yet this discovery challenges our understanding of fundamental physics and presents opportunities for more discoveries and in-depth understanding which ultimately leads to new devices and possibilities we can’t even imagine today,” added the researcher.
The experiment measured the interaction between two photons that were previously ‘entangled’ – forced to interact with one another and then separated by a space. The entangled pair of photons were produced at a base station with each member of the pair sent to one of two receiving stations about 15 km apart. The researchers measured the photon at one receiver and measured the time it took for the other photon to achieve the same measured value. Entangled pairs of photons continue to interact with each other even when they are separated by relatively large distances – photons have to ‘exchange information’ for the interaction to take place. The speed at which the photons exchanged information was measured at over 3 trillion meters per second – or about four times faster than the speed of light.
Previous attempts of similar experiments resulted in erroneous results due to problems with equipment and flaws in their methodologies. The researchers said they had addressed all of the issues with previous experiments and say their measurements are accurate.
The same group of researchers ‘teleported’ entangled photons over a distance of about 143 km (89 miles) in September 2012. The teleportation in this case is only remotely related to the teleporters in Star Trek – the teleportation in that case was the instant transfer of information about the state of one of a pair of entangled photons over a very large distance.
“This development could result in a boost your internet speed to the point where you can instantly download all of the information on the internet to your computer – what an incredible idea!” remarked a scientist.
The original research paper “Bounding the speed of spooky action at a distance” (http://arxiv.org/abs/1303.0614) is available online at the Cornell University Library website