Scientists are getting one step closer to redefining the length of the second.
To do this, they use atomic clocks.
Atomic clocks, which look like a mixture of lasers and wires, work by tapping into the natural oscillation of the atoms, with each atom “ticking” at a different speed.
Modern amenities including cell phones, the Internet, and the Global Positioning System (GPS) are made possible by the chimes of atomic clocks.
“Every time you want to find your location on this planet, you ask about the time from an atomic clock installed in the satellite that is our GPS system,” Colin Kennedy, a physicist at the Boulder Atomic Clock Optical Network, Bacon , Says NPR All things considered.
Standard atomic clocks around the world have for decades been based on cesium atoms – which tick about 9 billion times per second.
But newer atomic clocks that rely on other elements run faster – meaning the second can be split into smaller and smaller segments.
These newer atomic clocks are 100 times more accurate than cesium. But it was important to compare them with each other – “to make sure that the clock built here in Boulder is the same one built in Paris, as in London, as in Tokyo,” he says.
“Ultimately, the goal is to redefine the second in terms of a more precise and accurate standard, something we can make more precise and more accurate measurements,” Kennedy says.
This means that owning a watch, if you go back billions of years to the beginning of the universe, will not fail for only one second, the physicist adds. John Yi, Who was also involved in the collaboration.
Scientists at BACON, which includes researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, also wrote in The Journal of Natural Sciences last weekThey compared three next-generation atomic clocks that use different elements: aluminum, strontium, and ytterbium.
Scientists fired a laser beam through the air in an attempt to connect their watches, housed in two separate laboratories in Boulder, Colo, and used a fiber-optic cable.
“It was definitely an enjoyable experience,” Yi told NPR. “It is, in fact, safe by all accounts, and far removed from people’s daily lives.”
This resulted in a more accurate comparison of these types of atomic clocks than ever before.
Yi says that watch networks like these could also be used as hypersensitive sensors – perhaps to detect a passing wave of dark matter, and to test Einstein’s theory of relativity.