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Science & Technology

Beam Me Up, Scotty ... Sort Of. Chinese Scientists 'Teleport' Photon To Space

Quantum satellite "Micius" flies past the quantum teleportation experiment platform in Tibet. Chinese scientists have announced they successfully "teleported" information on a photon from Earth to space, spanning a distance of more than 300 miles.
Quantum satellite "Micius" flies past the quantum teleportation experiment platform in Tibet. Chinese scientists have announced they successfully "teleported" information on a photon from Earth to space, spanning a distance of more than 300 miles.

These days, advances in science seem to be sounding more like science fiction.

Chinese scientists have announced they successfully "teleported" information on a photon from Earth to space, spanning a distance of more than 300 miles.

So is this like "beaming" in Star Trek or "apparating" wizards in Harry Potter? Kind of, says Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University.

"It's somewhere in between," Greene tells NPR's David Greene (no relation) on Morning Edition. "But honestly, you should be super excited about that. It's a crazy, wonderful thing that we can do this."

But before you start dreaming about teleporting into work when you're running late, let's talk about what that all actually means.

"This type of teleportation does not involve the object that you're teleporting literally traveling from the origin to the destination," says Greene.

Professor Greene says that instead of the photon or a tiny particle of light traveling from one place to another, the information on the photon teleports.

It all has to do with quantum physics. Let's break it down.

The Chinese scientists had two photons: one on Earth at a ground station in Tibet and one on a satellite in space. These photons are what physicists call "entangled."

"Entangled particles have a weird connection," Professor Greene says. "[Albert] Einstein called it 'spooky action.' Whatever you do to the photon on Earth immediately affects the photon on the satellite."

You can use these two spookily connected photons to essentially teleport a third one with different properties from Earth to the photon in space.

This was the farthest distance of quantum entanglement recorded, spanning more than 300 miles.

And the connection created by quantum entanglement is theoretically unhackable, which means in the future people could use it to securely transport information.

"There is a security issue here," Professor Greene says, "because the first country to build a quantum computer or a quantum Internet, they will be able to send effectively unhackable messages. And then they can use the technology to try to hack into more conventional messages."

But as for teleporting people? Don't get too excited.

"Don't hold your breath," Greene says. "I mean, it's an infinitesimal step."

Tori Whitley (@_toriwhitley) is a producer atMorning Edition .

Morning Edition producer Alyssa Edes (@alyssaedes) contributed to this story.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.