May 21, 2012 at 1:33 PM ET
A team of European scientists have teleported photons a distance of 143 kilometers between two Atlantic Ocean islands, setting a new distance record for a technology inevitably entangled with Star Trek lore.
Unlike the science fiction media franchise where people are beamed from one place to another, quantum teleportation is all about sending information encoded in photons without passing through a physical medium, a technique that makes for super secure communications.
Scientists have been teleporting photons since 1997, mostly across optics labs. Teleporting over larger distances, however, has proven difficult since the principle that makes this all work, known as quantum entanglement, breaks down in optical fibers.
This changed in 2010 when a team of Chinese scientists teleported information 10 miles through the air. Earlier this month, Technology Review reported the Chinese team successfully shattered their own record by teleporting photons 60 miles across a lake with the aid of a laser.
The European team upped the ante, teleporting photons between Canary Islands of La Palma and Tenerife, a distance of 88 miles. Technology Review puts the race in perspective:
The results sets up an interesting race between east and west. These experiments are proof-of-principle runs for a much more ambitious idea--quantum teleportation to orbiting satellites.
Since teleportation is the basis of more-or-less perfectly secure communication, the prize here is a global communications network that cannot be hacked, even in principle.
--Via Technology Review
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Twitter. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.