Quantum technology will make it possible to make observations of the cosmos at previously inaccessible wavelengths. Once integrated with next-generation astronomical instruments, this technique could enable more detailed studies of black holes, exoplanets, the Solar System, and the surfaces of distant stars.
Researchers from Australia and Singapore have developed in a new study, recently published on arXiv, a quantum technique that could start a true revolution in the field of astronomy: when integrated with the most advanced astronomical instruments and tools, it will make detailed observation possible of those cosmic objects and phenomena that today are inaccessible to humans.
Great progress, but with limitations
In the last ten years, exoplanet studies have advanced considerably: gravitational-wave astronomy has emerged as a powerful new field of research, and the first images of supermassive black holes have been captured. However, many regions of the Universe still remain inaccessible to astronomers, which limits understanding of phenomena and mechanisms that would allow us to reveal great mysteries about the cosmos.
One of the possibilities to overcome these limitations is the development of interferometry, which has also made significant progress thanks to new high-sensitivity instruments and the ability to share and integrate data from observatories around the world. Precisely, a variety of this technique, the very long baseline interferometry (VLBI)is opening new possibilities that seem to have no limits.
Basically, interferometry is considered a “family of techniques” that consist of combining the light that comes from different receivers, telescopes or radio antennas, to achieve a higher resolution image of an object to be studied, executing the principle of superposition. It was precisely this “integration” of multiple data and images that allowed the Collaboration Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) get the first images of supermassive black holes, including Sagittarius A*, located in the center of our galaxy.
a new stage
But what if these new astronomical tools, and those currently under development, could be further enhanced by quantum techniques? According to the researcher Zixin Huangwho led the new study, the key to overcoming the limitations that state-of-the-art technologies such as VLBI still offer is to employ quantum communication techniques: maintains that this will eliminate the usual problems of “noise” or loss of information that are recorded in astronomical observations.
How would it be achieved? Currently, interferometry systems operate in the microwave band of the electromagnetic spectrum: Huang and his colleagues believe that by applying a technique called “quantum error correction” they could start working on optical frequencies, that is, in the spectrum of light visible to humans. This would facilitate the integration of the images obtained from the stars with each instrument and would eliminate the problems of information loss.
By moving to optical frequencies, such a quantum imaging network would improve the resolution of images of stars by three to five orders of magnitude, Huang explained in an article published in Universe Today. Consequently, by taking advantage of new quantum techniques and integrating them with VLBI, astronomers will be able to capture highly accurate images of some of the most inaccessible and hard to see objects in our Universesuch as exoplanets or stars that shine outside the Solar System and even the Milky Way.
Imaging stars with quantum error correction. Zixin Huang et al. ArXiv (2022).