Last week, Chinese scientists successfully teleported what was effectively a packet of information (though technically far more complicated than that) from a surface based laboratory to a satellite in orbit some 870 miles overhead.  While the term teleportation has been bandied about in headlines all over the internet in the days since, what these scientists actually accomplished is more akin to sending a telegraph than it is to beaming Captain Kirk into outer space… but don’t let that fool you.  This development could have huge ramifications for communications technology here on earth, and out among the stars.

“People have this ‘Star Trek’ approach,” Bill Munro, a senior research scientist at NTT’s basic research laboratory, said. “They think of atoms being teleported. What we’re moving is information from one [quantum] bit to another [quantum] bit. There’s no matter — only information. That’s hard to get your head around.”

Seems like some outlets may not have read the press releases.

The experiment these scientists conducted involves an element of quantum mechanics Einstein once referred to as “spooky action at a distance.”  In effect, two quantum entangled particles remain connected regardless of distance, and any action performed on one invariably affects the other.  This sort of observable phenomena would likely seem like magic when the two particles are side by side, but the “spookiness” of this action compounds as the distances between the particles increase.  Technically speaking, the way these particles interact with one another violates our understanding of physics – as one particle will demonstrate the effect of interactions with the other at any distance in real-time, even if it would take light significantly longer to cover that same gap.

Here is a cartoon NASA created to try to help people wrap their heads around this concept: