New technique could allow astronomers to send messages through the void of space

What do you do when you really want to send a message, but your smartphone just isn’t up to the job? Simple: You vibrate space itself so as to harness it as a communication method. OK, so that doesn’t actually sound all that simple at all, but it could nonetheless be one way of sending and receiving messages through the vastness of deep space in the future. That’s according to researchers from Illinois State University, who recently described such a proposal in a research paper, published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

It describes using a Dirac vacuum as a transport medium for information. A Dirac vacuum refers to insights provided by the British physicist and Nobel Prize Laureate Paul Dirac, who suggested that vacuums such as deep space are not actually empty, but rather filled with energy. By using electromagnetic fields to manipulate a vacuum could create ripples in its structure, which could then be measured using the energies of particle pairs generated by a phenomenon called the Schwinger effect. Were such changes to be modulated and correlated with individual letters, researchers Charles Su and Rainer Grobe hypothesize that it might be possible to create a sort of vacuum-based Morse code. To be clear, this would not require a medium such as light to transport the message, but would instead send it out as a ripple in space itself.

As the researchers write in the abstract for their paper: “Usually, the transport of information requires either an electromagnetic field or matter as a carrier. It turns out that the Dirac vacuum modes could be exploited as a potentially loss-free carrier of information between two distant locations in space. At the first location, a spatially localized electric field is placed, whose temporal shape is modulated, for example, as a binary sequence of distinguishable high and low values of the amplitude. The resulting distortion of the vacuum state reflecting this information propagates then to a second location, where this digital signal can be read off sequentially by a static electric field pulse. If this second field is supercritical, it can create electron-positron pairs from the manipulated vacuum state. The original information transported by the vacuum mode is then imprinted on the temporal behavior of the created particle yield for a selected energy.”

To be clear, the calculations described in their paper are preliminary, so expecting this technology to roll out in the near future is wishful thinking. But as an exciting possible approach to future communication which could trigger more research? Yep, this certainly qualifies!

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