If you wire telescopes into huge nets, you run into sharpness problems that classical physics can’t solve. But by taking advantage of the quantum properties of starlight, astronomers may be able to bypass these limitations.
Thanks to quantum computers that can detect and correct their errors, we may be able to build telescopes the size of a planet. This allows astronomers to overcome the limitations of current telescopes and clearly visualize distant objects in space.
Astronomers trying to take pictures of distant stars and planets must do so with tiny light reaching their telescopes. They could increase the accuracy by connecting telescopes in what was then called an “astronomical interferometer”. However, to get accurate images of the farthest things we know, these networks must span thousands of kilometers. At this scale, classical physics-based image sharpening techniques no longer work.
“You have to be very careful with questions about right and wrong.”
Quantum physicist Zixin Huang of Macquarie University in Australia and his colleagues have now discovered that large interferometers can manipulate light using quantum methods, effectively introducing one photon at a time. This technique can also sharpen blurred images. The approach is based on a technology originally developed for communication between quantum computers.
quantum hard disk
Astronomers often overlook the “quantum nature” of light, but when very little light reaches a telescope, the particles no longer behave in the classical way, says quantum physicist Daniel Gottesman of the University of Maryland in the US, who is not part of the research project. . “It means that this light is really quantum, and you can’t ignore that,” he says.
When particles of light from stars enter telescopes, you can record them on a kind of quantum version of a hard disk, made up of specially prepared atoms. The specific energy and arrival time of photons cause different atoms to end up in different states.
The light from a single star arriving at the interferometer is mechanically entangled. This allows separate telescopes to operate as a single large telescope without losing data through the data transmission normally required to create an image.
To process this information then, scientists can use error-correcting quantum computers, which are programmed to detect and correct errors during calculations. If you are not using this type of computer, the process is prone to glitches and errors that affect the final image.
Huang’s team is the first to suggest using quantum computers to correct errors in astronomy. Their analysis shows that it is possible to produce sharp images even when more than 10 percent of the starlight data is affected by interference.
Thanks to quantum mechanics, a giant telescope can have a resolution thousands of times higher than any existing or planned interferometer.
†This is an example of the application of quantum technology that has no classical counterpart, says quantum physicist Emil Khabiboulline from Harvard University in the US. “It allows you to get around the classic limitations.”
Several parts needed to build a telescope with the new system have already been tested separately. There are a few obstacles. For example, you must ensure that the exchange of quantum information is not too costly for distant and interconnected telescopes. “There are many challenges to be faced before we actually have a planet-sized device, but this is a good first step,” Huang says.
A similar approach can be used to search space and discover previously inaccessible details. Huang is already studying how to improve our understanding of signals emitted by water or hydrogen on exoplanets – potential indicators of life.
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