Quantum technology brings planet-sized telescopes closer

If you connect telescopes in huge networks, you will encounter problems with image sharpness that classical physics cannot solve. However, by taking advantage of the quantum properties of starlight, astronomers may be able to circumvent these limitations.

Thanks to quantum computers that can detect and correct their own errors, we may be able to build planet-sized telescopes. This allows astronomers to overcome the limitations of current telescopes and clearly visualize distant objects in space.

Astronomers trying to capture images of distant stars and planets must do so with the small light that reaches their telescopes. They can increase the resolution by connecting telescopes in what was then called an “astronomical interferometer.” But to get sharp images of the most distant objects we know, these networks would have to stretch for thousands of kilometers. At this scale, image sharpening techniques based on classical physics no longer work.

'You have to be very careful with questions of right and wrong'

‘You have to be very careful with questions of right and wrong’

Quantum physicist Zixin Huang from Macquarie University in Australia and her colleagues have now discovered that using quantum methods, large interferometers can process light that effectively penetrates one photon at a time. This technique can also sharpen blurred images. The approach is based on a technique that was originally developed for communication between quantum computers.

Quantum hard drive

Astronomers can often ignore the “quantum nature” of light, but when so little light reaches the telescope, the particles no longer behave in the classical way, says quantum physicist Daniel Gottesman of the University of Maryland in the United States, who is not part of it. of the research project. was involved. “It means this light is really quantum, you just can not ignore it,” he says.

When light particles from stars enter the telescopes, one could 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 the photons cause different atoms to end up in different states.

The light from a single star reaching the interferometer is quantum mechanically entangled. This allows the separate telescopes to function as one large telescope without losing data through the data transfer normally required to create an image.

Giant solution

To then process this information, researchers could use error-correction quantum computers, which are programmed to detect and correct errors during calculations. If you do not use this type of computer, the process is vulnerable to errors and glitches that affect the final image.

Huang’s team is the first to propose the use of error-correcting quantum computers 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 could have a resolution thousands of times higher than any existing or planned interferometer.


This is an example of an application of quantum technology for which there is simply no classical counterpart, ‘says quantum physicist Emil Khabiboulline from Harvard University in the USA. “It allows you to get around classic constraints.”

Many of the parts needed to build a telescope with the new system have already been tested separately. There are only a few obstacles. For example, make sure that exchanging quantum information is not too expensive for remote, interconnected telescopes. “There are many more challenges to tackle before we actually have a device the size of a planet, but this is a good first step,” Huang says.

A similar approach can be used to look further into the room and discover previously inaccessible details. Huang is already studying how we can improve our understanding of signals coming from water or hydrogen on planets outside the solar system – potential indicators of life.

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