Most Stable Transmission of Laser Signal to Date could Allow Scientists to Verify Einstein‘s Theory

An international team of researchers has recently achieved record-breaking stability in sending a laser signal through the atmosphere, which often proves difficult due to its unpredictability and turbulence.

“We can correct for atmospheric turbulence in 3-D, that is, left-right, up-down and, critically, along the line of flight,” said lead author Benjamin Dix-Matthews. “It’s as if the moving atmosphere has been removed and doesn’t exist. It allows us to send highly stable laser signals through the atmosphere while retaining the quality of the original signal.”

The feat was made possible by combining the phase stabilisation technology provided by the University of Western Australia (UWA) with advanced self-guiding optical terminals, allowing the researchers to send a laser signal from one point to another without atmospheric interference.

The team behind the project standing in front of a telescope dome that contains one of the optical terminals. Image courtesy of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) and and the University of Western Australia (UWA)

Being the world’s new and most precise method of comparing how the flow of time works in different locations, the approach could open up the door to new exciting discoveries in fundamental physics.

For instance, one of the optical terminals could be installed on the ground and another on a satellite in space, enabling physicists to test Einstein’s theory of general relativity with more precision than ever before.

In addition, the set up could also potentially lead to such major discoveries as finding out whether fundamental physical constants change over time or remain stable bedrocks that can be studied as static entities.

Besides additional applications like searching for underground ore deposits and making satellite-based studies conducted by earth scientists and geophysicists more precise, the technology could also majorly improve optical communication efficiency between satellites and Earth.

“Our technology could help us increase the data rate from satellite to ground by orders of magnitude,” said senior researcher Dr Sascha Schediwy. “The next generation of big data-gathering satellite would be able to get critical information to the ground faster.”

The study was published on 22 January in the journal Nature Communications.

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