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Device Makes Radio Waves Travel Faster Than Light

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

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

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


Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today's Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT's Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • CinIN July 1, 2009, 1:08 PM

    to: Iomitus

    I’m all for dreaming but it has been determined experimentally that a particle moving at a velocity close to the speed of light is much more massive than one at a lower velocity. So the closer you get to c the more massive it becomes and the more energy it takes to go faster until takes infinite energy as you get infinitely close to c.

    Face it, Relativity describes the way the universe works.

  • DrFlimmer July 1, 2009, 2:03 PM

    @ lomitus

    Dreaming is good! It can lead you to very exciting things. And space travel would, indeed, be a great thing.

    The problem here is, as CinIN already states, SR (special relativity) is proven without any doubts. Especially particle physics experiments have shown its effects to be real. Even such a different theory like quantum mechanics relies on SR; you need SR to achieve the correct explanation of electrons in an atom – and this has been proven, too! We must face it: SR is right and faster-than-light-travel is not possible in the conventional way.
    Btw: Theoretically the warp-drive of Enterprise could work! One major problem could be to put thirty solar masses into the space ship and keep it from collapsing into a black hole. But as a professor once stated: “Theoretically it works. How to build it is up to the engeneers!” 😀

  • Dominion July 1, 2009, 5:08 PM

    I’m hesitant to open this can of worms but then curiosity killed the cat. I’m not a proponent of the EU theory but am intrigued by some of what it suggests. Is faster than light speed possible according to EU? Where is Anaconda when you need him?

    I can’t believe I really just typed that…

  • Lawrence B. Crowell July 1, 2009, 5:55 PM

    The spped of light is not really a property of light, but of spacetime. The speed of light is where there is zero distance in spacetime (space + time), and massless particles such as photons travel along these paths or geodesics.

    Phase terms can travel faster than light. Even stranger quantum entanglements can exist simultaneously. Two charged and spinning particles in an entangled states may be separated by a huge distance. If one particle is in a region with a magnetic field that particle will exhibit a precession. This is the basis of MRI. Now the other particle far removed and with no magnetic field will also precess!

    Can there be a speed up of information because a phase travels faster than light? Surprisingly yes, but under certain conditions. This is the basis for quantum computers, where the entanglement of states can quantum compute in a log(time) compared to a classical computer. There is a hitch though. There has to be a classical signal transmitted to read the output of the quantum computation.

    With the case of the laser pointer suppose it points at various spots on the moon. These are specific little pulses of codes and the pointer hits detectors so there is no speed of light connection between them. Each of these little detectors then processes the information and then communicates to some “hub.” In that sense you can actually have a faster communication of information. Yet it has to be remembered that no information actually travels faster than light.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • johnconway July 2, 2009, 8:00 PM

    This article confusing too much to me. First all all original paper was already 5 years old. Why you writing article as if this letter is quite new one? Sencond “polarization synchrotron” is not way to sending meaning data by faster than light. In short this article is not crrect by physically speaking and it looks like yellow journalism. I am sorry to say to use a such a words because of your article is always very good.

  • Greg July 2, 2009, 9:43 PM

    According to what Lawrence B. Crowell wrote, a pulse of light sent ftl would be detectable. If you could power your laser pointer sufficiently and make it accurate enough, one could send pulses to specific locations to a detector array and the arrangement of those locations would convey the message. Over short distances this would not matter, but over many light years it would speed up messaging considerably.

  • Lawrence B. Crowell July 6, 2009, 8:26 AM

    Ouch, that is not exactly what I said. You can send a phase FLT, or one can change the pointer of a laser so the spot on a target moves faster than light. The motion of this spot is not a causal propagation of information. Yet one could send a signal to distant detectors on the moon, with different phases, and these detectors then process their information and relay it to a central region. There will be a speed up of information processing, even though information has NOT actually propagated faster than light.

    Quantum computers exploit nonlocality of quantum entanglements in a related way to speed up the processing of information. The architype is the controlled-NOT gate which can process entangled quantum bits.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • SuperRel July 6, 2009, 7:13 PM

    To lomitus,

    You sir are not a dreamer you are a visionary. I agree with your line of thinking. I have an explanation of why this device works as it does. You may be interested in seeing it. Please go to this Internet site, Super Relativity.org. At this site read the article How to Build a Warp Drive using SR Theory. It will explain the mechanics of the discovery talked about in the article above. It discusses the principle idea of what I call the Slip Wave Field.

  • evan_rose July 9, 2009, 9:21 AM

    I don’t understand why this finding is not being taken more seriously. Although I do not believe this damaged Einstein’s theories in any way (as his theory only applies to objects with an existential mass, and not waves), I think it is worth noting that these waves can be used to send information, even if they can’t contain information.

    Take for example, fiber optics. The idea behind fiber optics is not that light can store information and then send it from one node to another, but rather that the light’s presence (or lack there of) can represent a number in binary.

    Couldn’t the same idea be applied to radio waves, allowing us to send information faster than fiber optics allows us, and beyond that, we can send it through space, rather than only in network cables?