Polarization Synchrotron. Credit: Singleton, et al., via Current.com

Device Makes Radio Waves Travel Faster Than Light

30 Jun , 2009 by

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A scientist has created a gadget that can make radio waves travel faster than light. Einstein predicted that particles and information can’t travel faster than the speed of light, but phenomena like radio waves are a different story, said John Singleton, who works at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The polarization synchrotron combines the waves with a rapidly spinning magnetic field, and the result could explain why pulsars — which are super-dense spinning stars that are a subclass of neutron stars — emit such powerful signals, a phenomenon that has baffled many scientists.

Singleton said the polarization synchrotron basically abuses radio waves so severely that they finally give in and travel faster than light. This may be what happens in pulsars, as well.

“Pulsars are rapidly rotating neutron stars that emit radio waves in pulses, but what we don’t know is why these pulses are so bright or why they travel such long distances,” Singleton said. “What we think is these are transmitting the same way our machine does.”

The device consists of a 2 meter-long gently curving arc of alumina (a dielectric material), with a series of electrodes fitted at regular intervals along its length. Applying a sinusoidal voltage across each electrode and displacing the phase of the voltage very slightly from one electrode to the next generates a sinusoidally-varying polarization pattern that moves along the device. By carefully adjusting the frequency of the voltage and the phase displacement the researchers say they can make the wave travel at greater than the speed of light. However no physical quantity of charge travels faster than light speed.

And beyond explaining what has been a bit of a mystery to the astronomical community, Singleton’s discovery could have wide-ranging technological impacts in areas such as medicine and communications, he said.

“Because nobody’s really thought about things that travel faster than light before, this is a wide-open technological field,” Singleton said.

One possible use for faster than light radio waves — which are packed into a very powerful wave the size of a pencil point — could be the creation of a new generation of cell phones that communicate directly to satellites, rather than transmitting through relay towers as they now do.

Those phones would have more reliable service and would also be more difficult for hackers to intercept, Singleton said.

Speedy radio waves could also revolutionize the computing industry. Data could be transferred more quickly, and if used in semiconductors, it would mean faster caches and the ability to communicate across separate pieces of silicon nearly instantly.

In the health field, faster than light radio waves could be in extremely targeted chemotherapy, where a patient takes the drugs, and the radio waves are used to activate them very specifically in the area around a tumor, Singleton said.

Read the paper on the Polarization Synchrotron.

Sources: Current, Geek.com, Roland Piquepaille’s Technology Trends



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Dave Finton
Member
June 30, 2009 8:10 PM

I’ve heard of this phenomenon before, and it should be noted while the waves travel (or appear to travel) faster than light, information that can be transmitted by these waves cannot (it goes regular light speed or slower). Therefore, we’re not seeing a breakdown of the laws of physics here, nor is this really all that new an idea. It’s probably just a new implementation.

Lawrence B. Crowell
Member
Lawrence B. Crowell
June 30, 2009 8:32 PM

Agreed. The speed of light is a fundamental limit on causality. No causal signal or information can travel faster. In this case what is travelling faster than light is a phase, but not information.

Maxwell
Member
Maxwell
June 30, 2009 8:41 PM

Is’all greek to me as I don’t understand much of anything about this or how it violates causality and laws of the universe to find loopholes in Einsteins theories.

What I don’t understand most tho is how something can be moving faster than the speed of light, and we are aware of this somehow, but that something carries no information (when its existence is information).

Is this just a quirky thing that happens on a bench or can we someday look forward to FTL Morse code from mars?

Greg
Member
Greg
June 30, 2009 9:04 PM

This article is very confusing as written. The paragraph about using this phenomenon to speed up data processing in computers clearly indicates that this can be used to convey information faster. Even if only a portion of the wave is moving faster than light speed, that is still significant. Even though the signal itself cannot carry information the signal itself can be the information. If it’s delivery can be varied in any particular way then that variance can be translated into a message very easily. Granted such a message would not be secure but that isn’t always the point. Perhaps we are beginning to see the advent of “subspace communication” or ftl messaging.

Astrofiend
Member
Astrofiend
June 30, 2009 9:17 PM
“What I don’t understand most tho is how something can be moving faster than the speed of light, and we are aware of this somehow, but that something carries no information (when its existence is information).” It’s existence could be thought of as providing information – i.e. Does this radio wave exist? > I can detect it > Yes it does. > OK – that provides me with information. However, what we are interested in here is the transmission of non-random information from one place to another. To do this, you have to modulate the signal somehow to allow the wave to carry information. Here it gets technical, but suffice it to say that the modulated wave packet… Read more »
CrazyEddieBlogger
Member
June 30, 2009 9:23 PM

Maxwell – try this thought (or real) experiment:

Take a laser pointer, and point it at the moon.
Next, swing the laser so it traverses the moon in about a 1/100 of a second. (that’s equivalent to about one complete revolution of your hand every 3 seconds).

The spot of the laser pointer is moving across the lunar landscape at approximately the speed of light!

Want to go faster? either swing your arm faster, or aim for Mars…

Just like in this device, no information is transmitted from one side of the moon to the other.

(Just thought of another – if you pre-program the audience, you can make a stadium wave move faster than the speed of light too!)

Ben

Maxwell
Member
Maxwell
June 30, 2009 9:30 PM

On the causality thing, I don’t think it would be a violation. The speed of light is fast but its not instantaneous.
I’d figure a signal could be faster, blisteringly faster, and still never arrive before it was sent. It would simply arrive before a light based signal did.

We are not the center of time any more than we are the center of the universe.

Dave Finton
Member
June 30, 2009 9:31 PM

Greg: but that’s just the problem; at no point does this process push information even a tiny bit faster than light. The phase that this article describes can only transfer information about one part to the Universe to another at the speed of light or less; no faster. This article is very misleading about the wording it uses in addition to the implied result it present. This article may as well be about the invention of a perpetual motion machine.

Dave Finton
Member
June 30, 2009 9:50 PM
I know there’s a good article out there that states that Special Relativity and FTL imformation transfer cannot co-exist but my Google-Fu is failing me tonight. Basically, if Special Relativity is true, the FTL information transfer cannot be, and vice versa. What the argument boils down to is that Special Relativity dictates that the receiver would get the signal before the transmitter sent it, and can do something to disrupt the signal before it is sent by the transmitter, thus preventing the receiver from getting the signal, etc, etc. That would obviously violate casuality and create a paradox, which would make the scenario impossible. Can anyone help me find that article? Parts of it got math-y, but it… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
July 1, 2009 2:56 AM
This is the kind or article that you either disregard or perhaps glance through to see how the original informants are trying to mess with their readers mind. Note that the paper is from -04, which means that the research has emptied out the possibilities of their setup. Since the research isn’t interesting they are probably trying to wake interest by bloviating on technological possibilities, which in turn also seems to have awoken little interest. I see that many have anticipated much of the rest of my kvetch on this. This article is very confusing as written. Greg, they are trying to shuffle the cards fast. First, as CEB notes you can yourself recreate such signal sweeps. I… Read more »
Torbjorn Larsson OM
Member
Torbjorn Larsson OM
July 1, 2009 3:27 AM
@ Maxwell: No, it wouldn’t help to imagine a faster process, then that simply would be “light”. Einstein realized that there must be a fastest signal, and that it is tied into how space and time works. It is rather easy to identify that fields that have infinite range (which means their interactions are mediated by massless particles: EM, gravity) transmit at this speed. [“rather easy” reads, as usual, as: “I’m sure I have seen this beautiful argument somewhere somewhen, but I can’t remember or reconstruct it.” ] @ Dave: Unfortunately I dunno about such a good article. But I have one old link somewhere to an article how superluminal signals in general would destabilize your typical gauge… Read more »
DrFlimmer
Member
DrFlimmer
July 1, 2009 4:00 AM

This reminds me of quantum mechanics and the interpretation of particles being waves.
The “particle” is made up of many waves. These waves travel with different phase-velocities and can be faster than the speed of light. But a single wave is not transporting any information about the particle. It is the group of waves that counts and the corresponding group-velocity is always less than the speed of light…

Greg
Member
Greg
July 1, 2009 5:42 AM

Thanks, this makes alot more sense than the article did. I’ll try to put this in simplified concrete terms. If such a signal could be sent over a long distance then essentially what an observer would see would be random signals and there would be no way to control the delivery to convey a message. But on second thought the observer would see nothing even though part of the waveform was sent and would only detect the signal when the rest of the wavefrom arrived at light speed.

Ric101
Member
Ric101
July 1, 2009 7:24 AM
Hmmm. I have always came back to the ideal in my little brain that gravity has been the one thing that does not have speed. Or….maybe it simply moves or JUST IS within the universe. It does bend light. So my question is…is gravity a phase or a wave or a particles? Or all three, it does seem to break ‘Einstein’s Rule’. Maybe. I can not be completely held down to the thought that ‘nothing moves faster then the speed of light’. I think we have just begun to figure out the physics of the universe. I do think this is a new way to come at an old ideal and should make us think…all rules can be… Read more »
Savino
Member
Savino
July 1, 2009 8:58 AM

I request an Astronomy Cast about this subject!! smile

Really, so it´s possible to send information faster than speed of light?
As far as I know (and understood about the article) it breaks some known physical laws, doesnt it? I will read the paper and than I post what I find out…

Manu
Member
Manu
July 1, 2009 10:11 AM
When you throw a rock in water, waves carry the disturbance across the pond, in the form of a growing ring. If you look very carefully, you will notice that each individual wave (‘phase’) moves faster than the ring (‘group’). Waves appear to ‘be born’ on the inside edge of the ring, grow and move outward faster than it, then dissipate and disappear on the outside edge. The ‘information’ about the rock fall, as well as what energy can be harnessed from it, crosses the pond at the speed of the ring, not the waves’. Waves on water behave like this because the system (fluids boundary under gravity) is highly ‘non-linear’ – (= complex; as strange as it… Read more »
Dave Finton
Member
July 1, 2009 10:14 AM

This was the best I can find so far about the whole subject. Now that I realized my previous error (I confused the terms casualty and causality [Bad Dave! No cookie for you!]), I’m finding more useful references to the whole subject.

DrFlimmer
Member
DrFlimmer
July 1, 2009 10:16 AM

…long but interesting!

Manu
Member
Manu
July 1, 2009 10:26 AM

Hey, there was a bug with > and < !

"But it is possible to find, and even make, weirdly non-linear media for light, and radio-waves.
If you can make nc!"

should read:

"If you can make n smaller than 1, then V larger than c!"

lomitus
Member
lomitus
July 1, 2009 12:09 PM
I have a comment that I would like to inject here, not so much about the article as much as about a few of the comments. Repeatedly a few folks have stated that “nothing can travel faster than light” in reference to Einstein’s theories and these comments are being stated as an undeniable fact. I wanted to address this because these comments also insinuate that if nothing can travel faster than light, well then “what’s the point of even trying?” and to me this is a very sad view of things. To me attitudes such as this simply say that we’re in for a very lonely existence on this planet and that there’s really no point to any… Read more »
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