Tags: atomic | clock | second | redefine

New Atomic Clock: A Second Could be Redefined With More Accuracy

Friday, 12 Jul 2013 12:51 PM

By Clyde Hughes

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A new atomic clock currently being tested by physicists at the Paris Observatory could redefine the second because of its extraordinary accuracy.

Jerome Lodewyck of the Paris Observatory told BBC News that laser beams can oscillate much faster than microwave radiation used in current atomic clocks, dividing time in much shorter intervals, thus making time measurement more precise.

Scientists said the new, laser-based optical lattice clocks are three times as accurate as caesium fountains, which are accurate to one second every 100 million years, wrote the BBC News. Researchers believe the clocks will eventually become the standard for the world's time.

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Researchers believe if such a clock had been ticking for the last 13.8 billion years, since the instant of the Big Bang, it would have lost only about 46 seconds in all that time, reported National Geographic.

It is that consistency that has scientists excited about the new clock. Lodewyck told National Geographic that the new clock could eventually be used to create a more accurate standard for the length of a second.

"For example, you might have a wristwatch that gains a second one day and loses it the next," Lodewyck told National Geographic. "And while that might average out so that your watch seems to keep perfect time during the course of a million years, it is still not a stable watch."

National Geographic reported that atomic clocks have been used to set the standards in time-keeping since the 1960s. Much like the grandfather clock uses a pendulum to measure time, atomic clocks uses oscillations of caesium atoms to make up the standard official second.

Lodewyck told National Geographic while some may question the practical application of the optical clock, the technology could certainly be used with the advancement in the speed of fiberoptic communication, for example.

"These sorts of colorful descriptions — accurate to within one second in 300 million years — are useful for illustrating to a layman the degree of precision we can achieve, but they don't really represent our motivation for doing this sort of work," Lodewyck told National Geographic.

"It isn't the super-long timescales that interests us, but rather the very short ones. Even an accuracy of a second in 300 million years still means a lag of about 0.01 of a nanosecond over the course of a day. That is not really so little when you think about fiberoptic communications and realize that a single telecommunications slot is 0.1 of a nanosecond," Lodewyck added.

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