Simply, we're now able to copy an atom, duplicating everything about it except its position and velocity in a new atom somewhere else. The original atom's characteristics get changed in the process, it is no longer the atom that it was.
- Is it FTL?
This article says not, but I can think of ways around it. Working from dumbed-down-for-journalists stories rather than the Maths, I can't say. There's reason to think it may be.
- Is it affected by Distance?
Again, without looking at the Maths, I don't know, but there's strong evidence to think that it isn't.
- Is it a Star Trek-like transporter?
No. But this article shows that such a thing is not impossible due to quantum uncertainty. Of course the engineering involved is non-trivial, it may take a significant time (which is Engineer-speak for saying 'Only when Hell Freezes Over') and could mean Billions of years.
- So what is it good for?
In the immediate future -
- Making quantum computers a LOT faster. Timescale : a decade or two. This is the big area of interest in the publicity at the moment.
- Absolutely Secure Communication. This hasn't been mentioned, but my bet is that Quantum Entanglement will be used in the very near future (<10 years) for military-grade communications that would be difficult to jam, impossible to intercept without anyone knowing, and guarded by the Laws of Physics rather than the ability to compute really large numbers. (Good job, as Quantum computers will be really good at doing this)
- The effect is absolutely independant of intervening stuff, such as planets, stars, parsecs-of-lead etc. Without examining the Maths, I'm not sure if it would be affected by one part being inside a Black Hole's event horizon, but an intervening Black Hole would have no effect.
The next few centuries should be interesting. It is looking increasingly likely that before a thousand more years has passed, neither humanity nor civilisation as we know it will exist in any recogniseable form. I'm not talking about the relatively minor differences between, say, Middle Kingdom Egypt of 4000 years ago and today, or even the difference between Homo Erectus and today. Something far more strange and wonderful.
Time to start saving if I don't want to miss it.