Quantum Error Correction Will Enable Quantum Telescopes

Researchers from Australia and Singapore are working on a new quantum technique that could enhance optical VLBI. It’s known as Stimulated Raman Adiabatic Passage (STIRAP), which allows quantum information to be transferred without losses. When imprinted into a quantum error correction code, this technique could allow for VLBI observations into previously inaccessible wavelengths. Once integrated with next-generation instruments, this technique could allow for more detailed studies of black holes, exoplanets, the Solar System, and the surfaces of distant stars.

The interferometry technique consists of combining light from multiple telescopes to create images of an object that would otherwise be too difficult to resolve. Very Long Baseline Interferometry refers to a specific technique used in radio astronomy where signals from an astronomical radio source (black holes, quasars, pulsars, star-forming nebulae, etc.) are combined to create detailed images of their structure and activity. In recent years, VLBI has yielded the most detailed images of the stars that orbit Sagitarrius A* (Sgr A*), the SMBH at the center of our galaxy.

We can already do large-baseline interferometry in the microwave. However, this task becomes very difficult in optical frequencies, because even the fastest electronics cannot directly measure the oscillations of the electric field at these frequencies.

The process they envision would involve coherently coupling the starlight into “dark” atomic states that do not radiate. The next step, said Huang, is to couple the light with quantum error correction (QEC), a technique used in quantum computing to protect quantum information from errors due to decoherence and other “quantum noise.

Arxiv – Imaging Stars with Quantum Error Correction.

Combining the light from telescopes across the entire planet would enable direct imaging of planets in other solar systems. The light of the star would need to be shielded so we could see the exoplanet in detail.

There is work to create space based starshades for large ground based telescopes. Other researchers are working on an ultra-lightweight redesign will be developed that can be built or assembled in space.

There are quantum computers with tens – or soon hundreds – of qubits are becoming available. Much research effort has focused on using such noisy intermediate-scale quantum (NISQ) devices to demonstrate capabilities that surpass classical computers. Here, we have proposed an application for such a NISQ device for imaging, where we protect the information encoded in the received starlight. For the dominant noise type—dephasing—we show that a significant advantage can be gained by using even a simple repetition code. For noise types (even adversarial) that corrupt up to a certain fraction of the qubits.

The telescope researchers find the threshold —9.4%—for which the quantum Fisher information can be preserved. This threshold is significantly less stringent than that required for quantum computation. For pure dephasing, they can tolerate error rates up to 50%. This means quantum error-corrected telescopes are easier than error-corrected quantum computers.

They anticipate that by leveraging on the theory of fault-tolerant quantum computation, their scheme can achieve a high QFI even with imperfect QEC operation.

14 thoughts on “Quantum Error Correction Will Enable Quantum Telescopes”

  1. One parsec is 3.26 light years. Five is 16.3 light years.

    That will be a damn good telephoto lens!

  2. Speaking of Quantum Physics, I bought a Powerball ticket. And until I check the ticket against the published numbers, I have both won and lost the lottery.

    Schrödinger’s Lotto

  3. This is exciting. And there are even more exotic uses for quantum sensors.

    People sometimes talk about a “quantum internet” as if it would be useful for connecting quantum computers so they could talk to each other. That would be pointless. The true use of a quantum internet is to connect sensors. This article is just one use case for combining sensors. There are many. The future will be VERY interesting.

    • The most useful application of quantum transmission is certainly guaranteed no-tamper transmission of crypto keys. But other uses, like this one, are always welcome.

      • Quantum cryptography (QKD) appears to generally be a bad idea. It has all the problems of an analog computer: small errors in implementation can allow attacks, and there’s no way to be certain that you didn’t make such a mistake. And even if it’s perfect when you build it, the hardware can drift over time and develop such errors.

        It reminds me of an early analog implementation of the one time pad. The attackers were able to break it easily, because there was a subtle difference between the signal it sent for 0 XOR 1 and what it sent for 1 XOR 0. It was perfect in theory, but the analog nature of the hardware made it easy for disastrous security flaws to sneak in.

        And the only purpose of QKD is to help us of someone can break AES. Although that’s conceivable, after all these years of analysis, it’s more likely we’ll find a hardware error in a given QKD system than to find a mathematical break of the AES algorithm itself. Even 3DES is still secure, after all these decades. The history of analog devices for security is not nearly as good.

        And if you want extreme encryption security, you could encrypt your message multiple times with independent keys. Then you’re secure unless the adversary can break ALL of the ciphers you are using, such as AES and 3DES and crystals-kyber, etc. Even that kind of extreme security will still be faster and cheaper and easier than QKD.

        • By Quantum Cryptography, do you mean running Shor’s Algorithm to break classical encryption, communication channels which use quantum properties such as the no-cloning theorem, or the algorithms which are being touted as a solution to the problem of the advent of quantum computing? I’m talking about the second one.

          Also, AES isn’t vulnerable to quantum decryption, and neither is SHA-256. The algorithms at risk are the asymmetric key algorithms, such as RSA and ECDSA, which are used to implement blockchain and certificates. However, you really shouldn’t use 3DES if you can at all. It’s secure, but only barely, because the key is so small.

          • I was responding to “The most useful application of quantum transmission is certainly guaranteed no-tamper transmission of crypto keys.” That sounded like a reference to quantum cryptography (QKD), not to quantum cryptanalysis. QKD is your second option: “communication channels which use quantum properties such as the no-cloning theorem”.

            Quantum key distribution (QKD) is also called quantum cryptography. It’s where particles are sent from Alice to Bob, each of them make random measurements, and then they also communicate on a traditional channel to describe which measurements they made. The result is a shared string of truly random bits known only to Alice and Bob. These can be used as a one time pad. Though, to bootstrap it to begin with, Alice and Bob must already start with a small one time pad that they share and that is secret. So it doesn’t help with the initial key distribution. It just allows them to keep sending each other new pads.

            This is not very useful, for the reasons I described above. It doesn’t replace asymetric cryptography. It replaces symmetric cryptography. But symetric cryptography is already considered secure, and the dangers of hardware implementation problems in QKD exceed the dangers of a combination of symmetric ciphers being broken. In other words, just using AES-256 over the internet is likely more secure than using a QKD system to expand your small shared pad to a bigger one.

            I started this thread by mentioning that the “quantum internet” isn’t useful for connecting quantum computers that are computing; it’s actually very useful for connecting sensors to make them cooperate in a quantum way. That’s why I thought this article was so exciting.

            Shor’s algorithm is quantum cryptanalysis, which is something different. It’s possible that in a decade, it may force us to switch to algorithms like crystals-kyber (which I mentioned above). But we probably don’t have to switch today.

            Other quantum algorithms, like Grover’s, sound mildly useful. Though it isn’t yet obvious that they will have a revolutionary impact on the world. But maybe better ones will be discovered.

            • BTW, it’s SHA-384 that’s considered post-quantum secure, not SHA-256. Because there are collision attacks that divide the number of bits by 3.

              But you’re right that AES-256 is considered secure, because known plaintext attacks can only divide the number of bits by 2 (such as with Grover’s algorithm).

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