It’s nearly impossible to open certain ancient, fragile books without watching them crumble. But that doesn't mean the treasures will be locked away in those pages forever. MIT Media Lab scientists are trying to overcome the problem with a computational imaging system.

This breakthrough lets them read the pages of a book even when it’s closed. No, really.

The technology uses terahertz radiation, which allows scanning of the pages one by one – through the cover. There’s also a letter interpretation algorithm that can help understand incomplete text.

However, there’s a catch. They’ve only managed to develop the technology sufficiently for it to be able to read around nine pages before it’s overtaken by noise. Don't blame them – after all, the page being scanned keeps getting farther away, with other material in between. It also cannot measure the depth after 20 pages.

So, if you do stumble upon an old and delicate manuscript you dare not open, you’ll have to wait a while before you can hope to interpret its contents. The power and accuracy of the terahertz technology needs to be improved significantly in order to make this a possibility.

Still, it's a major development because of the endless possibilities it offers historians and researchers of the near future.