Have you ever looked at your watch and thought: “I know this keeps good time now, but will it be a second slow in 200 million years?”
A now incredibly obsolete cesium clock. Image by Zubro
I know I’ve thought that dozens of times in the last few months alone. That’s why I’m so happy to hear about a new clock created by the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA).
This clock is so accurate it will keep accurate time to the second for at least 200 million years. That thrashes the current atomic clock used by the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). That one is so old-fashioned it can only keep really accurate time for 80 million years. What a piece of junk.
The clock is one of two created at the JILA lab that is attempting to be named the world’s most accurate clock. These types of clocks do have legitimate applications beyond making your watch seem unimpressive. Deep space navigation, for one, needs timekeeping to be extremely precise or very small differences in time could result in very big problems for a mission.
The superclock uses strontium atoms to help keep time. These atoms are trapped in laser light grids, and this allows researchers to measure the movement of the energy inside the atoms. “Essentially, we are probing the energy structure of the atom. We are probing how electrons make transitions between a set of energy level. This is the time scale that was made by the universe. It is very stable,” said Jun Ye, creator of the clock.
Ye thinks his clock can be used to help synchronize communications networks and satellites. Eventually, he thinks this could lead to cars driven by satellites rather than humans. Ye said: “If we can navigate a vehicle on Mars and ask it to settle down on a particular runway, I’m sure we can navigate all the cars on Earth with satellites.”
Info from Reuters