The ‘radio’ that can send messages THROUGH the Earth (and which could help us get in touch with ET on distant worlds)

  • Word ‘beamed’ through 240 metres of solid rock
  • Could help us get in touch with aliens on ‘wrong’ side of distant worlds
  • Technology could help submarines communicate
  • So far, too bulky for ‘real world’ use – both transmitter and receiver weigh several tons

By Rob Waugh

PUBLISHED: 11:16 EST, 16 March 2012 | UPDATED: 11:16 EST, 16 March 2012

A new communication technology that could send a message directly THROUGH the Earth – or another planet – was shown off for the first time this week.

Scientists coded a message into beam of ‘neutrinos’ – a tiny subatomic particle – and sent it through 240 metres of solid rock. The first-of-its-kind transmission simply said, ‘Neutrino.’

Scientists think that the technology could enable submarines to stay in touch from deep in the ocean – and could help us get in touch with life forms on other worlds.

Chicago's Fermilab particle accelerator: Scientists fired a word encoded into a beam of 'neutrinos' 240 metres through solid rock - the first time a message had ever been encoded in the tiny particles Chicago’s Fermilab particle accelerator: Scientists fired a word encoded into a beam of ‘neutrinos’ 240 metres through solid rock – the first time a message had ever been encoded in the tiny particles

How the communicator works: What the diagram doesn't tell us is that the transmitter is 2.5 miles long and the receiver weighs several tonnes How the communicator works: What the diagram doesn’t tell us is that the transmitter is 2.5 miles long and the receiver weighs several tonnes

 

There is just one snag – at present, the only ‘transmitter’ capable of sending such a beam is a 2.5-mile long particle accelerator.

Even the receiver – a huge underground particle detector – weighs several tonnes.

But the technology has exciting possibilities.

‘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.

‘Neutrino communication systems would be much more complicated than today’s systems, but may have important strategic uses.’

Neutrinos can penetrate almost anything they encounter.

The Sudbury Neutrino ObservatoryThe Sudbury Neutrino Observatory: Filled with heavy water to help detect neutrino particles, it sits 2,000 meters below the surface in a mine – and is evidence that the equipment required to transmit and receive neutrino messages is a little bulky

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.

If humans 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.’

The team of scientists that demonstrated that it was possible performed their test at the Fermi National Accelerator Lab, outside of Chicago. The group has submitted its findings to the journal Modern Physics Letters A.

At Fermilab the researchers had access to two crucial components.

The first is one of the world’s most powerful particle accelerators, which creates high-intensity beams of neutrinos by accelerating protons around a 2.5-mile-circumference track and then colliding them with a carbon target.

The second is a multi-ton detector called MINERvA, located in a cavern 100 meters underground.

The fact that such a substantial setup is necessary to communicate using neutrinos means that much work will need to be done before the technology can be incorporated into a readily usable form.

 

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Posted on March 16, 2012, in Science / Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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