What Time Is It? Time for the World’s Most Accurate Clock!

Wht Time Is It? Time for the World’s Most ccurte Clock!

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If you think your Apple watch is the coolest thing in timekeeping, think gin. Scitists t Germny’s Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) hve just published paper in the journl Physicl Review Letters on the most ccurte timekeeping device in history. It bets out the previous chmps, tomic clocks, by lrge mrn. In fct, the new single-ion clock is so ccurte tht it my force us to redefine wht “second” is.

To understnd the single-ion clock, you have to understand its predecessor, the tomic clock. Scitists hve spt lot of time wtching toms. They’ve figured out tht n tom’s electrons do lot of predict nd detect things wh they jump from ergy level to ergy level in n tom (remember those electron clouds you hd to drw in school?). In n tomic clock, toms re forced to sit reltely still nd th blsted with ergy from known frequcy (like lsers or microwves). The electrons move s result of this ergy blst, nd the clock counts those movemts. The clock knows how much time hs pssed by combining two known things (the behviors of the electrons nd the properties of the ergy blst) to figure out n unknown thing (how much time hs pssed).

ccurcy in timekeeping is mesured by how precisely the lgth of ech ‘tick’ mtches the lgth of every other ‘tick’. The tomic clock’s form of timekeeping is so ccurte tht our currt definition of wht ‘second’ is comes from the best tomic clocks currtly round — cesium tomic clocks. Scitists mesure clock ccurcy by their level of systemtic uncertinty, which is type of error rte.

The Germns’ single-ion clock kicks the tomic clock’s timekeeping butt on tht score. Its systemtic uncertinty is 3 x 10-18. Tht’s 100 times better thn cesium tomic clock, n ccurcy tht scitists hve be trying to ttin since physicist Hns Dehmelt sid it ws possible bck in 1981.

The PTB single-ion clock uses Yb+, n ion of ytterbium, but there re reserch projects in the U.K. nd Chin on single-ion clocks bsed round other ions s well, such s Sr+, C+ nd l+.

Dr. Christin Tmm, who s with the opticl clocks t PTB, told us vi emil, “Ech of these ion systems hs prticulr dvntges nd disdvntges with respect to ccurcy pottil nd technicl complexity.”

Tmm dds, “Yb+ seems to hve high ccurcy pottil chllng l+, but mybe clock bsed on Yb+ is esier to relize nd optimize.”  

This discovery hs wy bigger implictions thn just mking sure you’re on time for your next swim meet. Super ccurte timekeeping hs huge impct on GPS nd ev the Internet. PTB hopes to use its clock in order to physicl theories.


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Wht Time Is It? Time for the World’s Most ccurte Clock!


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