This article was originally published on March 18, 2012.
A new communication technology using Neutrino to send radio message directly through the Earth – or another planet – was shown off for the first time. Scientists coded a message into beam of ‘neutrinos‘ – a tiny subatomic particle – and sent it through 240m of solid rock. The first-of-its-kind transmission simply said, ‘Neutrino.’ The first time a message had ever been encoded in the tiny particles.
The 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.
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. ‘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.
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.
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 also could help us get in touch with life forms on other distant worlds.