Thursday, March 15, 2012

The possibilities are almost endless!

Now and again news arrives of some scientific or technological breakthrough that's so 'way out there' that its possibilities are almost endless. Such a report surfaced today.

A group of scientists led by researchers from the University of Rochester and North Carolina State University have for the first time sent a message using a beam of neutrinos – nearly massless particles that travel at almost the speed of light. The message was sent through 240 meters of stone and said simply, "Neutrino."

"Using neutrinos, it would be possible to communicate between any two points on Earth without using satellites or cables," said Dan Stancil, professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and lead author of a paper describing the research. "Neutrino communication systems would be much more complicated than today's systems, but may have important strategic uses."

Many have theorized about the possible uses of neutrinos in communication because of one particularly valuable property: they can penetrate almost anything they encounter. If this technology could be applied to submarines, for instance, then they could conceivably communicate over long distances through water, which is difficult, if not impossible, with present technology. And if we wanted to communicate with something in outer space that was on the far side of a moon or a planet, our message could travel straight through without impediment.

"Of course, our current technology takes massive amounts of high-tech equipment to communicate a message using neutrinos, so this isn't practical now," said Kevin McFarland, a University of Rochester physics professor who was involved in the experiment. "But the first step toward someday using neutrinos for communication in a practical application is a demonstration using today's technology."

There's more at the link.

The possibilities for applying this technology are almost limitless. Imagine communicating across oceans, or between continents, without subterranean or undersea cables, without satellites, without any of the communications infrastructure so laboriously (and expensively) erected over decades, even centuries. Imagine communicating with spacecraft orbiting the Moon, or Mars, or another planet, even while they're on the far side of the thing - there'd be no more 'dead' periods when communication was impossible. For that matter, we're already trying to cope with radio frequencies that are becoming overloaded with signals. This technology might remove a great deal of that burden from the airwaves, making more bandwidth available for conventional communications.

Full marks to the researchers involved for a most intriguing experiment. I'm willing to bet that telecommunications companies around the world - not to mention national governments, defense industries, and others - will be sitting up and paying very careful attention to it, and investing money in further investigations.



Carteach said...

Amazing stuff. One can picture Neutrino communications being a key point in interplanetary exploration... and farther.

It could also be a hallmark interstellar civilizations look for in new species to contact.

As you say, Endless.

trailbee said...

I sure hope all those concerned will have a blast and go full bore, before this entire project is shut down, to make room for those new can-to-can speaking devices which worked so well many decades ago.

DaddyBear said...

I wonder how you would jam this? With a stream of neutrinos that cuts across the communications stream? Or would you just overwhelm the receiver so that it couldn't distinguish communications from the noise?

SiGraybeard said...

The trick with neutrinos is detecting them. Well, once you've generated them. Just as they go through solid rock, and the entire earth, they go through whatever you're trying to detect them with.

Reading the description on PhysOrg makes it seem like this is about as far from practical as the first experiments with "cathode rays" was from Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs). If you need the Fermi particle accelerator to generate a neutrino beam and the MINERvA detector, you have years and years to go before this is might be usable.