Record-Breaking Laser Link to Test Einstein's Theory of Relativity

Researchers set a record for the most stable transmission of a laser signal through the atmosphere.
Chris Young
The photo credit line may appear like thisICRAR

Scientists from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) and The University of Western Australia (UWA) set a world record for the most stable transmission of a laser signal through the atmosphere, ICRAR reports in a press release.

In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, the team behind the world record describe how they combined "phase stabilization" technology with advanced self-guiding optical terminals.

The researchers say their laser will allow science such as Einstein's theory of general relativity to be tested more precisely than ever before.


Record-breaking laser link

The combination of "phase stabilization" technology and advanced self-guiding optical terminals allows laser signals to be sent from one point to another without interference from the atmosphere.

"We can correct for atmospheric turbulence in 3D, that is, left-right, up-down and, critically, along the line of flight," explains lead author Benjamin Dix-Matthews, a PhD student at ICRAR and UWA.

"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," he continued.

'Most precise method' for comparing flow of time

The researchers say their laser gives the most precise method on Earth for comparing the flow of time between two separate locations using a laser system transmitted through the atmosphere.

Laser link Schematic Resize MD
A schematic view of the point-to-point atmospheric-stabilized optical link between two buildings, Source: ICRAR

ICRAR-UWA senior researcher Dr. Sascha Schediwy highlights the laser's exciting applications:

"If you have one of these optical terminals on the ground and another on a satellite in space, then you can start to explore fundamental physics," he explains.

"Everything from testing Einstein’s theory of general relativity more precisely than ever before, to discovering if fundamental physical constants change over time."

Potential laser applications on Earth

The laser also has many potential Earth applications such as improving optical communications or improving satellite-based studies of Earth.

"Our technology could help us increase the data rate from satellites to ground by orders of magnitude," Dr. Schediwy says.

The technology was originally developed in order to synchronize incoming signals for the Square Kilometre Array telescopes, multi-billion-dollar telescopes set to be built in Western Australia and South Africa.


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