Science

New atomic clocks are badass at keeping accurate time

Above: New atomic clock

Image Credit: NIST

Researchers have created an atomic clock that takes accuracy to a new level.

In the journal Science, researchers described the world’s most precise clock for use in scientific exploration and technological research.┬áThe clock is a table-sized machine that makes use of an electro-magnetic signal that is emitted at an exact, known frequency, according to study co-author Andrew Ludlow.

The light is used to excite an electron in an atom. The clock ticks one way based on the excitation of the electron, and it ticks the other based on a “de-excitation” of an electron.

“One could say that this is like measuring time over a hundred years to a precision of several nanoseconds,” said Ludlow in an interview with CNN.

Ludlow works for the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo. The rate of ticking of the clock, dubbed the ytterbium optical lattice clock, does not change by one part in 10 to the 18th power. If there is a variation in how a second is measured, it would be in the 18th decimal place.

The new clock can beat the cesium clock, a type of atomic clock that an international body of experts has used to define the unit of one second. It is about 9.19 billion oscillations.
The oscillations per second in the ytterbium clock approach one quadrillion per second, Ludlow said. The research could be used for a variety of tasks, including understanding the link between time and gravity.

The device costs around $500,000.