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Researchers Beam Data to the Moon at Faster Speeds Than You Get at Starbucks

Daniel Bean
Assistant Editor
Yahoo Tech


Next time you’re complaining to your Internet provider about how Netflix won’t stop buffering, be sure to pepper in this jab: “I just read that information can be shot from here to the moon faster than the speeds I’m getting at home!”

It’s true. As first reported by Wired UK, scientists at MIT and NASA recently announced that they had successfully beamed data from Earth to the moon at speeds of 622 megabits (almost 78 MB) per second. That’s almost certainly faster than what you’re getting from the Linksys router in your living room or at the Starbucks down the street. (It’s a happy day when I see 30 MB download speeds in my apartment).

In fact, according to data collected by Ookla and Speedtest.net last January, this “moonshot” data streaming project saw speeds five times faster than what most households get on average.

This heat map shows the fastest and slowest average download speeds by state. You’d be doing much better if you lived on the moon. (Gizmodo)

The caveat, of course, is that these tests beamed the data using lasers, not the radio broadcast technology our terrestrial WiFi routers and cellphone data towers use. For context, research at the University of Illinois last year yielded a breakthrough in laser communication, with data transfer speeds reaching 40 gigabits, or 5 GB, per second. That makes the NASA/MIT speed tests sound like dial-up.

But if you’re planning any trips to the moon, keep in mind the amount of lag involved in real-time communications at a distance of around 400,000 kilometers. It takes about 1.3 seconds for light (and lasers) to reach the lunar surface in a straight shot from Earth. So even though these connection speeds would allow you to download all six Star Wars films in less than two minutes, you still wouldn’t be able to communicate that far without at least a full second of lag time.

In other words, don’t plan on making any Skype calls.


1. Thanks to MIT and NASA, that eventual vacation on the moon that will come in our lifetimes will, fortunately, be complete with Foursquare check-ins.

2. Start lobbying your Comcast or Time Warner reps today for more lasers!

3. Don’t actually do No. 2.

Have questions, comments, or just want to tell me something funny? Email me at danbean@yahoo-inc.com.