It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.
Somewhere in the vast expanse of the Milky Way, a computer screen whirred to life. The alarm startled Andre, forcing his eyes up from his workstation across the room. His team had anticipated that they would begin receiving data soon, but this was sooner than expected.
With a kick, he pushed himself off the wall, silently floating across his lab, unburdened by Earth’s gravity. Dr. Andre Mburu was currently 746,000 miles from Earth, orbiting Saturn’s moon Titan. The vessel he called home in the lonely, black void of space was the Atlas Space Station. His mission was 20 years in the making, and this was the moment he had dedicated his life’s work to fulfill.
He reached the monitoring panel blaring the alert, his eyes urgently scanning the screen. “Oh my god, it’s working,” he said under bated breath. Data was coming in. This wasn’t an error, this was happening. He reached the communications panel and enabled a quantum channel relay to his command base on Earth. “Houston, this is Commander Mburu. Do you copy?” He waited. “Copy, Commander, go ahead,” a woman replied. “We have readings,” he tried to suppress his excitement and remain calm, “It’s sooner than anticipated, but transmission is consistent, Katherine. Have the decryption team standing by.”
His thoughts raced. His team had spent decades of their lives making this day happen, and it had been a brutal battle to secure the funding to make it all possible. If the data they were receiving was not some frivolous coding error or phantom readings, they were about to change the course of human history and our fundamental understanding of the universe.
Their labor of love was the Deep Space Quantum Telescope. During the early 21st century, advancements in quantum computing and AI drove a technological revolution. A new renaissance emerged, and as humanity applied these technologies to improve life on our home planet, we once again looked to the stars, determined to find answers to the universe's greatest mysteries.
The telescope was launched 10 years prior to his mission and was currently hurtling 3.5 billion light years away from Earth. The payload consisted of a 1.5-ton quantum computer that was mounted to the deep space telescope, kept cool by the ambient temperatures in space. The telescope itself used quantum photon sensors, entangled with their quantum counterparts back on the Atlas. Their mission was to send this behemoth to deep space, where it would instantaneously transmit readings that could then be modeled in real-time using advanced algorithms to translate that quantum data to a live image of the cosmos. Its inaugural target to observe: the supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A, that lived in the heart of our galaxy.
As it approached Sagittarius A, the sensors onboard flickered into focus. Following its programming, it began to transmit data. As his research partner back on Earth, Katherine Liu’s contribution to the mission had been to develop advanced algorithms that would decode the data into real-time models of cosmological events. With this telescope, they would be able to break the fundamental barriers of space-time relativity, giving us a live look at the universe around us.
“Wait. This is unusual. These spikes here,” he was staring at a blip in the long string of readings on the monitor before him, “these are interference points, but it’s far more than anticipated. We have a problem.” He looked intently at the screen, the calmness in his voice disguised the frantic race in his mind to understand this new variable.
Katherine understood what he was thinking, “The algorithms we have won’t be able to compensate for those levels of interference.” Her voice was quiet, they both knew they would not be able to create accurate models with this data set. “A violent event nearby is likely producing more cosmic radiation than we calculated.” Andre sighed and continued, “This possibility was in our protocols, but I would not have expected it from this distance.”
“How fast can your team make interference compensation adjustments to the algorithm if we use these preliminary data sets?” he asked. “I.. I mean, under normal conditions a few days maybe? That’s a big ask, we don’t even know what the source of the interference is yet. Do you know how hard it is to calculate for an unknown like that?" The hesitation was evident in her voice. “Nobody said this was going to be easy,” his eyes looked to the observation port and he peered into the blackness of space, “we have a challenge to meet, and I know you of all people can do this.” She took in his words, the uncertainty weighed heavily on her, and after a moment of contemplation, she radioed back in agreement, “Ok, let’s do this.”
Within six hours, Katherine’s team had implemented their Hail Mary adjustments. From the telescope command center on board the Atlas, Andre initiated the new decryption protocols and waited patiently in front of the large monitor. Slowly, the black screen began to fill with pixels. “We have initial images coming through, confirm?” “Confirm commander, we’re seeing it,” she replied.
After a moment, the image became clearer. Andre couldn’t believe what he was seeing. A luminous ring of light surrounded a black spherical void. He was staring at a real-time view of the accretion disk of a supermassive black hole. His eyes followed a trail of blue light from the accretion disk to a bright object nearby. It was a star. Sagittarius A was devouring a type A star before his eyes. This event had been the unknown source of radiation, this violent dance was what had interfered with the initial quantum data. The brilliant light from the star arced around the gravity well of Sagittarius A, as it clung to what life it had left before being consumed. They had just made history, but he knew his work was just beginning. “It’s beautiful,” he whispered to himself.