Atomic clocks have long been the most accurate timing devices known to man. Moreover, optical lattice atomic clocks have been developed over the last few years that offer absolutely mind-boggling stability and accuracy.
On Wednesday, April 22nd researchers announced they have developed a record-setting strontium atomic clock that is so stable that it could operate for 15 billion years without losing a second. The new atomic clock is much more accurate than our current master clock.
The amazingly accurate clock was built by scientists at an institute of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Colorado Boulder. More details on the innovative atomic clock can be found in a paper published earlier this week in Nature Communications.
More on super-accurate strontium atomic clock
The device works by using several thousand atoms of the element strontium.Lasers are used to create an optical lattice, essentially making a 30-by-30 micrometer column that traps the atoms. Then a stable red laser is applied so the atoms switch between two different energy levels. Every switch between energy levels, should be exactly the same, meaning the strontium atoms are much more accurate than the pendulums that swing in old-fashioned clocks or the vibration period of quartz crystals in some more modern clocks.
In their efforts to make the clock more accurate and stable (so that each “tick” is the exact same), the team managed to significantly reduce the influence of heat from the environment, which impacts the speed at which the atoms switch in response to the laser.
The new clock is so accurate that it actually makes it difficult to tell time. In fact, the new clock is so accurate that it detects the slight differences in the passage of time at different altitudes, creating quite a conundrum in terms of the idea of a single “master clock” for global record keeping.