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A new distance record has been set in the strange world of quantum teleportation.
In the record-setting experiment, the quantum spin of a light particle was teleported 15.5 miles (25 kilometers) across an optical fiber, making the operation the farthest quantum feat of its kind.
About five years ago, researchers could teleport quantum information, such as the direction in which a particle is spinning, across only a few meters. Now they can beam that information across several miles. [Twisted Physics: 7 Mind-Blowing Findings]
Quantum teleportation doesn't mean it's possible to beam someone aboard a spacecraft, as in "Star Trek." Physicists can't instantly transport matter, but they can instantly transport information through quantum teleportation. This works thanks to a bizarre quantum property called entanglement.
Entanglement happens when the states of two subatomic particles remain connected no matter how far apart they are. When one particle is disturbed, the entangled partner is instantly affected by the same disturbance.
In the record-breaking experiment, researchers from the University of Geneva, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the National Institute of Standards and Technology used a super-fast laser to pump out photons. Every once in a while, two photons would become entangled. Once the researchers had an entangled pair, they sent one down the optical fiber and stored the other in a crystal at the end of the cable. Then the researchers shot a third particle of light at the photon traveling down the cable. When the two collided, they obliterated each other.
Though both photons vanished, the quantum information from the collision appeared in the crystal that held the second entangled photon.
Quantum information has been transferred dozens of miles, but this is the farthest it's been transported using an optical fiber, and then recorded and stored at the other end. Other quantum teleportation experiments that beamed photons farther used lasers instead of optical fibers to send the information. Unlike the laser method, the optical-fiber method could be used to develop super-secure quantum communication channels, or quantum computers that are capable of extremely fast computing.
The research was published Sept. 21 in Nature Photonics.