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Radio waves travel at the speed of light. Communication across vast interstellar distances is difficult due to weak signals and slow multi-year duration. I honestly imagine it to be like old times with message couriers travelling the empty void.

Any ideas for a somewhat realistic concept for quick communication between stellar bodies?

EDIT: I'm writing several short stories set in a sci-fi universe. I'd like to keep things in a fairly believable scope when compared to real life, yet boring ol' physics doesn't condone cool things like deep space e-mails.

If anyone has a cool theory/idea in the realm of loose science fiction I'd love to start a discussion.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site! Now define "realistic." You've tagged science-fiction but not science-based or reality-check, so a "realistic" explanation could be nearly anything: instantaneous (but IRL impossible) quantum entanglement, wormholes, tachyons, etc. Can you clarify the scope of the technology and level of realism you're working with? $\endgroup$ – Zxyrra Feb 29 at 3:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Zxyrra Edited the post! :) $\endgroup$ – Lyle Youngblood Feb 29 at 3:56
  • $\begingroup$ Quantum entanglement and quantum teleportation are real, so is Bell's theorem... unfortunately for you T_T $\endgroup$ – user6760 Feb 29 at 11:09
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Yeah, no, radio is the fastest means of long-distance communication, and interstellar radio transmissions would require massive antennae and dishes or other types of transmitters and receivers. Look at the planetwide arrays of radio telescopes used to scan for extraterrestrial signals and you’ll get a sense of the scale.

Most sci-fi authors, as far as I know, avoid that tricky detail entirely. I suppose the presumption is that if humans have colonized distant planets, then communication should be no problem. But you’re right that it is. Humans could eventually colonize the galaxy, even with current propulsion technology (given a few million years). But communications won’t move any faster than the speed of light...unless you wave your hands.

Ursula LeGuin famously invented a fictional device called an “ansible” which allowed interplanetary ambassadors to communicate with the governments on their home worlds in real time, instantaneously, with no delay in communication, despite the staggering distances between planets.

In his incredible Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy, Chinese sci-fi author Liu Cixin describes alien technologies that use either neutrinos or gravitational waves for rapid long distance communication. These also involved massive arrays for detecting these nearly undetectable forces. I can’t remember his explanation for why they’re superior to radio, though. Maybe longer range? Radio waves rapidly fall off with distance. Speed is always limited by the speed of light, and I remember there still being some sort of delay involved. More importantly, it sounded cool, and it was an inventive idea. Liu also describes using the sun as a sort of radio transmitter—because in his story, ground-based arrays were not sufficiently powerful to broadcast an interstellar message, even to the nearest stars.

Such a plot device can be used in many unexpected ways, given the huge time gaps between communications. Perhaps you’ll come up with your own. It all depends on how much you want to bend the laws of physics, and how much you care to either explain or omit details. There is an art to not spelling things out. Sometimes it’s best to let readers wonder.

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Nope.

As we understand physics, the speed of light is a hard limit on how fast information can travel (aka the speed of causality). This makes light waves (including radio) the fastest method of communication we know of.

A lot of sci-fi uses quantum entanglement to transmit information faster than light due to popular misunderstandings about how quantum entangled particles act, but in reality two entangled particles can't transmit any information between them. Another option is to make up another field/dimension/particle that doesn't exist in reality and use that (e.g. subspace in Star Trek).

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  • $\begingroup$ That is no longer true, information transmission between entangled particles has been cracked. $\endgroup$ – nijineko Feb 29 at 4:51
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have a source for that? I'm pretty sure it's impossible. What you can do is use entangled particles as a shared, exclusive source of information (like a one-time pad) and use it to encrypt data transferred normally, but you can't transfer data through the particles themselves. $\endgroup$ – Leo Adberg Feb 29 at 5:02
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    $\begingroup$ @nijineko That’s an extraordinary claim. If it’s true, someone is getting an all-expenses-paid trip to Sweden in the not-too-distant future. But for the same reason, I’d expect to have already heard about it, and so I suspect you’re just misinterpreting a much less interesting result. $\endgroup$ – Mike Scott Feb 29 at 7:51
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    $\begingroup$ entanglement used for communication is impossible, however wormholes and spacetime compression are at the very least possible, and allow for FTL communication $\endgroup$ – SilverCookies Feb 29 at 10:28
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    $\begingroup$ @nijineko So basically you are saying that entangled particles can transmit information but the information can only be retrieved after the classical communication arrives? I wouldn't call that actually transmitting information. $\endgroup$ – jpa Feb 29 at 17:15
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With a little handwavium, telepathy in real time across stellar distances can seem plausible. (A fair number of people believe in telepathy without any handwavium at all.)

See Robert A Heinlein's novel Time for the Stars. Back cover of the 1978 Ballentine Books edition reproduced here:

enter image description here

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You need some Powder of Sympathy (Maybe)

From the Wikipedia article:

The powder was also applied to solve the longitude problem in the suggestion of an anonymous pamphlet of 1687 entitled "Curious Enquiries." The pamphlet theorised that a wounded dog could be put aboard a ship, with the animal's discarded bandage left in the trust of a timekeeper on shore, who would then dip the bandage into the powder at a predetermined time and cause the creature to yelp, thus giving the captain of the ship an accurate knowledge of the time.2

Admittedly, this is a speculative application since I am not certain that the Powder of Sympathy is actually FTL. Certainly more extensive testing will be necessary to resolve this question and possibly apply this historical medicine to the problem of interstellar communication. It is indeed fortunate that that's what government grants are for apparently.

The dog barking could be coded in Morse or similar encoding the provide general purpose communication. The bit rate would be very slow, but much better than waiting 5 years for light-speed.

It is possible that I have overstepped the bounds of "somewhat realistic" in this answer.

Perhaps the FTL Communication article would be more in line with the original question. If so, consider this second possibility. The warp drive in the form of a Alcubierre Drive has been considered at least remotely plausible (in the sense that it is not mathematically eliminated), has been conjectured to be a pre-built structure (a transport tube) that would span the long distance, supporting the warp-field.

If such a structure is remotely plausible, certainly a similar of structure could be built with the purpose of communication instead of materials/passenger shipping. At worse case, tiny pellets could be sent through the Alcubierre Tube that contain the desired message.

A message tube is almost certain to be simpler than one built for bulk materials.

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    $\begingroup$ Truly appreciate it. The second one seems interesting as well! I was planning on using anti-matter drives as the main way of interstellar travel. Perhaps warp tech isn't sophisticated enough in this universe to transport people/cargo? I really like this website! So many suggestions and stuff I can pick and choose from :) Thank you again. $\endgroup$ – Lyle Youngblood Mar 2 at 5:08
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Birkerland currents connect almost everything in the universe. They are a potential medium for high energy communications. Maybe some kind of quantum entanglement between two solar systems connect with Birkerland currents.

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  • $\begingroup$ But this is an electromagnetic phenomenon. Any messages sent using them would travel at no more than light speed. I don't see an advantage over radio or lasers. $\endgroup$ – Jim Baerg Mar 9 at 5:40
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe interstellar communication is an overkill. $\endgroup$ – Marino Mar 9 at 15:54

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