This has been an idea floating around in my head for a while and I thought I’d post it, even if just to say “I thought of it first.”
One of the biggest challenges facing interstellar travel, and by extension science fiction stories in space, is communication. Current forms of communication all rely on light in some form, this is fine for anything on or near Earth, but a real hassle for anything on beyond our moon. See, light only travels so fast and the distance between planets is so big that any light-based communication can be seriously delayed. Even communication with anything on Mars is delayed within a range of 4 to 24 minutes depending on how close our planets are. Distances between stars are even more daunting. The closest star system to ours, Alpha Centauri, is 4.3 light-years away. That means any signal sent from Earth would take over 4 years to reach anyone or anything at Alpha Centauri.
Most science fiction writers ignore these issues or never bother to explain how they’re communicators work at faster-than-light speeds. Granted a fair number of authors work these constraints into their stories, such as Jack Campbell, author of the Lost Fleet series. However, there is a rather “simple” way these writers could explain their interstellar communication.
Quantum Entanglement Communicators (QECs)
For those of you wondering what the heck Quantum Entanglement is, fret not, even physicists don’t entirely understand it. In simple terms, Quantum Entanglement is when two or more particles become linked so that when something is observed in one, the opposite is observed in the other(s). So, if one particle was observed having a spin going clockwise, the other particle would spin counterclockwise. But what is most interesting about Quantum Entanglement is that it is instantaneous, even over distances that would take light years to travel. No matter how far away the other particle(s) are, when one is observed to have a certain property, the other(s) immediately have the opposite property.
How this happens is a puzzle that scientists are still trying to solve, however just because we don’t fully understand how a process works doesn’t mean we can’t use it.
Let’s say we build two devices. Inside these devices are particles that have been quantum entangled. You send one of these devices in a spaceship to Alpha Centauri. Once the astronauts reach Alpha Centauri they use their device to observe their quantum entangled particle. Instantaneously the device still on Earth would stop being in a state of uncertainty and we would know that the spaceship had reached Alpha Centauri. Voila! Instantaneous interstellar communication!
Now, I do realize that there are problems with this idea. How could we know that one particle had been observed unless we ourselves were already observing the other particle? How could we contain particles small enough to be quantum entangled? How could we build a portable device to observe entanglement when it currently takes a lab full of equipment? Truth is, I don’t know.
However, all great inventions start as crazy, impossible ideas. In the 1800s, who could have even dreamed of such a device as a computer or that said computers would one day be as small as a watch.
So to all you science fiction writers, if warp drive can and wormholes can become staples of the genre, lets make Quantum Entanglement Communication just as common. As for all you scientists and engineers, get to work, you guys are the ones paving the road to the stars!
Make it Reel!