“The result was that photons appeared in pairs from the vacuum, which we were able to measure in the form of microwave radiation,” says Per Delsing. “We were also able to establish that the radiation had precisely the same properties that quantum theory says it should have when photons appear in pairs in this way.”
What happens during the experiment is that the “mirror” transfers some of its kinetic energy to virtual photons, which helps them to materialise.
I would like to take this opportunity to caution anyone against taking this result and recasting it as some hocus-pocus, or a magical way to tap the vacuum as an energy source, but it’s already happened. An article in Forbes is the kind of thing that opens up that door.
After rotating the SQUID at those high speeds, the team were able to detect several real photons that were essentially created from nothing.
No, not essentially. The interesting detail here from QM (and specifically quantum electrodynamics) is that the vacuum isn’t “nothing” and Forbes just completely ignores that to create an abracadabra moment.