Neutrinos could be the ultimate method of wireless communication

For the first time, particle physicists have successfully used neutrinos to transmit a message from one place to another. Since neutrinos travel at (or near) the speed of light and can pass through just about anything, neutrino communication could potentially replace wires, Wi-Fi, satellites and everything else as the ultimate method of transmitting data.

Neutrinos are very small subatomic particles with almost no mass and no charge. Since charge is what keeps things from running into other things, neutrinos can pass through most solid matter like it's simply not there. Take a look at your thumbnail, for example. Go on, look at it. 100 billion neutrinos from our sun just passed straight on through in the last second, and I'll bet you didn't feel a thing. In fact, the only way we can detect neutrinos is when one of them gets super duper unlucky and runs straight into the nucleus of an atom and bounces off, releasing a tiny flash of light that we can see.

Let me give you an example of what "super duper unlucky" means: in 1987, a supernova in Large Magellanic Cloud probably released something like 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (about a billion trillion trillion trillion trillion, or 10^57) neutrinos, and only 19 of them were unlucky enough to run into an atom in a neutrino detector here on Earth.

So yeah, neutrinos are hard to detect. But with enough of them in a focused enough beam, we can do it. Barely. Particle physicists at Fermilab spent several hours sending over 87,000 neutrino pulses from an emitter (pictured above) to a detector through 800 feet of solid rock in the hopes of transmitting an encoded message. Each pulse contained trillions of neutrinos, and the pulses were sent in a pattern corresponding to the zeros and ones that spell "neutrino" in binary. The detector on the other end managed to pick up an average of 0.8 neutrino per pulse (out of trillions), but that was (eventually) enough to successfully decode the message at a rate of 0.1 bit per second.

The exciting potential here is for a method of communication that is no longer constrained by lines of sight, obstacles, or even distance. There'd be no need for communication satellites, since signals could be sent straight through the planet. We'd be able to stealthily communicate with submarines under the water. And you'd never be able to get out of cellphone range ever again. The only problem, at this point, is that you'd have to carry one of these around with you:

opera.jpg

This is the OPERA neutrino detector in Italy. Not exactly pocket-sized. At least, not yet.

Via New Scientist

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