Quantum Tango

Scientists recently came one step closer to confirming the existence of neutrino superfluids after examining changes in the heart of the 330-year-old supernova remnant Cassiopeia A. The leftovers of exploded stars, the core of a neutron star is so dense that atomic nuclei dissolve. Then all those itty bitty quantum parts are up for grabs. What happens then?

Every elemental particle has a “spin,” or angular momentum, and particles like to pair off with other particles with the opposite spin. Sort of like a quantum tango. No one has ever actually observed left-spinning neutrinos, but if they do exist they could pair up with right-spinning neutrinos to form a superfluid. Cassiopeia’s rapid temperature drop could be a sign that neutrino superfluids have formed in its core.

Superfluids are cool (pun intended) because they don’t act like fluids at all. They have no friction, so they can do things like creep up the walls of a cup. Scientists have created helium superfluids on Earth, but we can’t recreate the conditions inside a neutron star, so creating neutrino superfluids is beyond our reach.

What could we use superfluids for? Communications. One of the primary potential applications is for one-way communication with submarines since radio waves travel poorly through water. Using superfluids, submarines could receive messages at data rates of up to 100 bits per second — three times faster than they do now.

If we could use superfluids for submarine communication, we can also imagine the substance being used by starships for communication across vast distances. We could potentially send more than just sound through a superfluid. Light can also be sent through a superfluid. Scientists have already “transported” light particles across miles and being able to send something larger — like a person — comes down to a matter of bandwidth. There’s a heck of a lot more information to encode for a person as opposed to a light particle, but could superfluids be the answer to the bandwidth problem?

Isn’t it cool when science sounds like science fiction?

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Lisa Paitz Spindler is a science fiction romance author. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, & Goodreads. Her debut novella is The Spiral Path, will be available March 28, 2011 from Carina Press.

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7 comments

  1. It is so cool when real science sounds more like science fiction. I’ve actually toyed with using superfluids in a story & this makes me want to get back to it!

  2. Very cool! How did superfluids factor in your story?

    1. Ah, it was directly tied to how the spaceship functions… and that’s all I’m going to say about that!
      (partly because I need to figure it out & partly because …. I need to figure it out).

  3. There’s a reason we don’t want to talk to submarine crews. They’re kind of socially inept. ;)

    Great posting, Lisa! And welcome!

  4. Woo… very cool! And it gives me a few ideas, too.

  5. Sweet! Now I’m totally hankering for a story involving superfluids.

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