Now they’re just messing with us. Physicists have long known that quantum mechanics allows for a subtle connection between quantum particles called entanglement, in which measuring one particle can instantly set the otherwise uncertain condition, or “state,” of another particle—even if it’s light years away. Now, experimenters in Israel have shown that they can entangle two photons that don’t even exist at the same time.
“It’s really cool,” says Jeremy O’Brien, an experimenter at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the work. Such time-separated entanglement is predicted by standard quantum theory, O’Brien says, “but it’s certainly not widely appreciated, and I don’t know if it’s been clearly articulated before.”
Entanglement is a kind of order that lurks within the uncertainty of quantum theory. Suppose you have a quantum particle of light, or photon. It can be polarized so that it wriggles either vertically or horizontally. The quantum realm is also hazed over with unavoidable uncertainty, and thanks to such quantum uncertainty, a photon can also be polarized vertically and horizontally at the same time. If you then measure the photon, however, you will find it either horizontally polarized or vertically polarized, as the two-ways-at-once state randomly “collapses” one way or the other.