Atomic Clock Could Stay on Time for 15B Years

In theory, JILA clock can accurately tick longer than universe has been in existence
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 22, 2015 4:00 PM CDT

That incredibly accurate atomic clock we heard about last year just upped its game. The JILA timepiece, created in a joint venture between the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Colorado Boulder, received upgrades that now have it (in theory, at least) faithfully ticking away for a very, very long time—it reportedly won't lose or gain a second for 15 billion years, the Washington Post notes. In a study published in Nature Communications, the scientists behind the moving parts explain that they were able to significantly increase the clock's accuracy—it boasted a mere 200 million years of accuracy just six years ago—by better controlling the temperature of the strontium atoms used inside, among other factors.

The newspaper spells out the process: An optical lattice is formed by "intense" lasers, trapping thousands of strontium atoms in a column, where they're prodded back and forth between two energy levels by a red laser (hence creating pendulum-like "ticks"). To make those ticks even more consistent and stable, scientists took into account how heat from the clock's surroundings affect the atoms and then cooled it down. Of course, a 2010 relativity study showed time goes by more slowly the closer someone is located to the Earth, so the Post boggles our already fragile minds with "the question of whether the whole Earth can really have one standard, super-accurate clock that speaks for us all" and asks, "Should we tell time by our highest points or our lowest?" (The quantum superclock may one day put the atomic clock out of business.)

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