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Chinese scientists have determined Einstein's so-called "spooky action at a distance" travels at least 10,000 times faster than light.

Better than that, they have measured a minimum speed at the limit of their equipment; it may actually have infinite speed.

Einstein somewhat jokingly gave the name "spooky action at a distance" to describe the way entangled quantum particles seem to interact with each other instantaneously, over any distance, thus effectively breaking the speed of light and hence relativity.

Fortunately, our current understanding of quantum mechanics makes it impossible to send data using quantum entanglement, saving relativity's bacon.

Obviously this is a rather hot area for quantum physicists and a lot of work is being done in this area, with some physicists believe that faster-than-light communication may turn out to be possible with some yet-to-be-determined manipulation of entangled particles.

To determine this speed measurement, the Chinese physicists entangled pairs of photons at a base station, and then transmitted half of each pair to two receiving sites. The receiving sites were 15.3 kilometres apart, and aligned east-west so as to minimize the interference from the Earth's rotation. One half of the pair was then observed, and the time for the other half to translate to the same state was measured. To gain sufficient data, the experiment was run continuously for 12 hours.

Based on the data, an estimated minimum speed of 3 trillion metres per second was determined. The scientists are adamant that this is a minimum speed and was limited by their ability to make measurements.

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David Heath

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David Heath has over 25 years experience in the IT industry, specializing particularly in customer support, security and computer networking. Heath has worked previously as head of IT for The Television Shopping Network, as the network and desktop manager for Armstrong Jones (a major funds management organization) and has consulted into various Australian federal government agencies (including the Department of Immigration and the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence). He has also served on various state, national and international committees for Novell Users International; he was also the organising chairman for the 1994 Novell Users' Conference in Brisbane. Heath is currently employed as an Instructional Designer, building technical training courses for industrial process control systems.

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