Is This the Most Precise Clock on the Planet?
New atomic timepiece could help with navigation
By Matt Cantor, Newser User
Posted Aug 23, 2013 3:17 AM CDT
The new atomic clock.   (Burrus/NIST)

(Newser) – A new timepiece the size of a dining-room table is being hailed as perhaps the world's most precise: It's "like measuring time over a hundred years to a precision of several nanoseconds," says Andrew Ludlow, co-author of a study behind what's being called the ytterbium optical lattice clock. Until now, the standard for time precision in the US has been a cesium-based clock. Some 9.19 billion oscillations of its electromagnetic signal defines a second. But the ytterbium clock oscillates about a quadrillion times per second, allowing observers to "divide time into finer and finer intervals," Ludlow notes.

Those intervals are extremely regular; indeed, two of the clocks have set a record for stability, Science Daily reports. Their timing would be perfect for about as long as the universe has existed. Experts must measure the cesium clock across five days for the most precise readings, whereas the ytterbium clock requires just a second to offer the same level of precision. Why would we ever need such a thing? It could mean better GPS, for example: Because the navigation systems are in space, their time perception isn't quite the same as ours on Earth. Scientists could better correct for that using a more precise clock, CNN notes.

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Showing 3 of 15 comments
normal
Aug 23, 2013 2:44 PM CDT
I'm waiting for the watch version.
HMD-SMD-ITY
Aug 23, 2013 12:15 PM CDT
My counterfeit Rolex I bought in Singapore a few years ago does ok. Oh, it looses a second or two every few days but I love it. The local jeweler says its real Rolex movement but its well known that the Rolex watches you buy in Asia are factory rejects. But nonetheless I enjoy wearing it for looks.
Tm1
Aug 23, 2013 6:30 AM CDT
" Does anybody really know what time it is?"