Archive for the ‘quantum physics’ Category

Have Scientists Found Faster than Light Particles?

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

The physics world got itself into a bit of a tizz this month as scientists at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, found an anomaly on one of their experiments, which seemed to show that some particles were travelling faster than light.

Time server's can provide atomic clock accuracy

Faster than light travel for any particle is prohibited of course, according to Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, but the OPERA team at CERN, who fired neutrinos around a particle accelerator, travelling for 730 km, found that the neutrinos travelled the distance 20 parts per million faster than photons (light particles) meaning they broke Einstein’s speed limit.

While this experiment could prove to be one of the most important discoveries in physics, physicists are remaining sceptical, suggesting that a cause could be an error generated in the difficulties and complexities of measuring such high speeds and distances.

The team at CERN used GPS time servers, portable atomic clocks and GPS positioning systems to make their calculations, which all provided accuracy in distance to within 20cm and an accuracy of time to within 10 nanoseconds. However, the facility is underground and the GPS signals and other data streams had to be cabled down to the experiment, a latency the team are confident they took into account during their calculations.

Physicists from other organisations are now attempting to repeat the experiments to see if they get the same results. Whatever the outcome, this type of groundbreaking research is only possible thanks to the accuracy of atomic clocks that are able to measure time to millionths of a second.

To synchronise a computer network to an atomic clock you don’t need to have access to a physics laboratory like CERN as simple NTP time servers like Galleons NTS 6001 will receive an accurate source of atomic clock time and keep all hardware on a network to within a few milliseconds of it.

 

Oddities of Time and the Importance of Accuracy

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Most of us think we know what the time it is. At a glance of our wristwatches or wall clocks, we can tell what time it is. We also think we have a pretty good idea of the speed time move forwards, a second, a minute, an hour or a day are pretty well-defined; however, these units of time are completely man-made and are not as constant as we may think.

Time is an abstract concept, while we may think it is the same for everybody, time is affected by its interaction with the universe. Gravity, for instance, as Einstein observed, has the ability to warp space-time altering the speed in which time passes, and while we all live on the same planet, under the same gravitational forces, there are subtle differences in the speed in which time passes.

Using atomic clocks, scientists are able to establish the effect Earth’s gravity has on time. The high above sea level an atomic clock is placed, the quicker time travels. While these differences are minute, these experiments clearly demonstrate that Einstein’s postulations were correct.

Atomic clocks have been used to demonstrate some of Einstein’s other theories regarding time too. In his theories of relativity, Einstein argued that speed is another factor that affects the speed at which time passes. By placing atomic clocks on orbiting spacecraft or aeroplanes travelling at speed, the time measured by these clocks differs to clocks left static on Earth, another indication that Einstein was right.

Before atomic clocks, measuring time to such degrees of accuracy was impossible, but since their invention in the 1950’s, not only have Einstein’s postulations proved right, but also we have discovered some other unusual aspects to how we regard time.

While most of us think of a day as 24-hours, with every day being the same length, atomic clocks have shown that each day varies. Furthermore, atomic clocks have also shown that the Earth’s rotation is gradually slowing down, meaning that days are getting slowly longer.

Because of these changes to time, the world’s global timescale, UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) needs occasional adjustments. Every six months or so, leap seconds are added to ensure UTC runs at the same rate as an Earth day, accounting for the gradual slowing down of the planet’s spin.

For technologies that require high levels of accuracy, these regular adjustments of time are accounted for by the time protocol NTP (Network Time Protocol) so a computer network using an NTP time server is always kept true to UTC.

Quantum Atomic Clocks The precision of the future

Friday, February 26th, 2010

The atomic clock is not a recent invention. Developed in the 1950’s, the traditional caesium based atomic clock has been providing us with accurate time for half a century.

The caesium atomic clock has become the foundation of our time – literally. The International System of Units (SI) define a second as a certain number of oscillations of the atom caesium and atomic clocks govern many of the technologies that we live with an use on a daily basis: The internet, satellite navigation, air traffic control and traffic lights to name but a few.

However, recent developments in optical quantum clocks that use single atoms of metals like aluminium or strontium are thousands of times more accurate than traditional atomic clocks. To put this in perspective, the best caesium atomic clock as used by institutes like NIST (National Institute for Standards and Time) or NPL (National Physical Laboratory) to govern the world’s global timescale UTC (Coordinated Universal Time), is accurate to within a second every 100 million years. However, these new quantum optical clocks are accurate to a second every 3.4 billion years – almost as long as the earth is old.

For most people, their only encounter with an atomic clock is receiving its time signal is a network time server or NTP device (Network Time Protocol) for the purposes of synchronising devices and networks and these atomic clock signals are generated using caesium clocks.

And until the world’s scientists can agreed on a single atom to replace caesium and a single clock design for keeping UTC, none of us will be able to take advantage of this incredible accuracy.

The Way an Atomic Clock Works

Saturday, October 24th, 2009

Atomic clocks are the most accurate chronometers we have. They are millions of times more accurate than digital clocks and can keep time for hundreds of millions of years without losing as much as a second. Their use has revolutionised the way we live and work and they have enabled technologies such as satellite navigation systems and global online commerce.

But how do they work? Strangely enough, atomic clocks work in the same way as ordinary mechanical clocks. But rather than have a coiled spring and mass or pendulum they use the oscillations of atoms. Atomic clocks are not radioactive as they do not rely on atomic decay instead they rely on the tiny vibrations at certain energy levels (oscillations) between the nucleus of an atom and the surrounding electrons.

When the atom receives microwave energy at exactly the right frequency, it changes energy state, this state is constant an unchanging and the oscillations can be measured just like the ticks of a mechanical clock. However, while mechanical clocks tick every second, atomic clocks ‘tick’ several billion times a second. In the case of caesium atoms, most commonly used in atomic clocks, they tick 9,192,631,770 per second – which is now the official definition of a second.

Atomic clocks now govern the entire global community as a universal timescale UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) based on atomic clock time has been developed to ensure synchronization. UTC atomic clock signals can be received by network time servers, often referred to as NTP Servers, that can synchronize computer networks to within a few milliseconds of UTC.

Facts of Time

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

From wristwatches to atomic clocks and NTP time servers, the understanding of time has become crucial for many modern technologies such as satellite navigation and global communications.

From time dilation to the effects of gravity on time, time has many weird and wonderful facets that scientists are only beginning to understand and utilise. Here are some interesting, weird and unusual facts about time:

•    Time is not separate from space, time makes up what Einstein called four dimensional space time. Space time can be warped by gravity meaning that time slows down the greater the gravitational influence.  Thanks to atomic clocks, time on earth can be measured at each subsequent inch above the earth’s surface. That means that every bodies feet are younger than their head as time runs slower the lower to the ground you get.

•    Time is also affected by speed. The only constant in the universe is the speed of light (in a vacuum) which is always the same. Because of Einstein’s famous theories of relativity anybody travelling at close to the speed of light a journey to an observer that would have taken thousands of years would have passed within seconds. This is called time dilation.

•    There is nothing in contemporary physics that prohibits time travel both forward and backwards in time.

•    There are 86400 seconds in a day, 600,000 in a week, more than 2.6 million in a month and more than 31 million in a year. If you live to be 70 years old then you will have lived through over 5.5 billion seconds.

•    A nanosecond is a billionth of a second or roughly the time it takes for light to travel about 1 foot (30 cm).

•    A day is never 24 hours long. The earth’s rotation is speeding up gradually which means the global timescale UTC (coordinated universal time) has to have leap seconds added once or twice a year. These leap seconds are automatically accounted for in any clock synchronization that uses NTP (Network Time Protocol) such as a dedicated NTP time server.

Germans Enter Race to Build the Worlds Most Accurate Clock

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Following the success of Danish researchers working in conjunction with NIST (National Institute for Standards and Time), who unveiled the world’s most accurate atomic clock earlier this year; German scientist have entered the race to build the world’s most precise timepiece.

Researchers at the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) in Germany are using use new methods of spectroscopy to investigate atomic and molecular systems and hope to develop a clock based around a single aluminium atom.

Most atomic clocks used for satellite navigation (GPS), as references for computer network NTP servers and air traffic control have traditionally been based on the atom caesium. However, the next generation of atomic clocks, such as the one unveiled by NIST which is claimed to be accurate to within a second every 300 million years, uses the atoms from other materials such as strontium which scientists claim can be potentially more accurate than caesium.

Researchers at PTB have opted to use single aluminium atoms and believe they are on the way to developing the most accurate clock ever and believe there is huge potential for such a device to help us understand some of the more complicated aspects of physics.

The current crop of atomic clocks allow technologies such as satellite navigation, air traffic control and network time synchronisation using NTP servers but it is believed the increases accuracy of the next generation of atomic clocks could be used to reveal some of the more enigmatic qualities of quantum science such as string theory.

Researchers claim the new clocks will provide such accuracy they will even be able to measure the minute differences in gravity to within each centimetre above sea-level.

The Atom and Time keeping

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Nuclear Weapons, computers, GPS, atomic clocks and carbon dating – there is much more to atoms than you think.

Since the beginning of the twentieth century mankind has been obsessed with atoms and the minutiae of our universe. Much of the first part of the last century, mankind became obsessed with harnessing the hidden power of the atom, revealed to us by the work of Albert Einstein and finalised by Robert Oppenheimer.

However, there has been much more to our exploration of the atom than just weapons. The studying of the atoms (quantum mechanics) has been at the root of most of our modern technologies such as computers and the Internet.  It is also in the forefront of chronology – the measuring of time.

The atom plays a key role in both timekeeping and time prediction. The atomic clock, which is utilised all over the world by computer networks using NTP servers and other technical systems such as air traffic control and satellite navigation.

Atomic clocks work by monitoring the extremely high frequency oscillations of individual atoms (traditionally caesium) that never changes at particular energy states. As caesium atoms resonate over a 9 billion times every second and never alters it its frequency it makes the m highly accurate (losing less than a second every 100 million years)

But atoms can also be used to work out not just accurate and precise time but they can also be utilised in establishing the age of objects. Carbon dating  is the name given to this method which measures the natural decay of carbon atoms. All of us are made primarily of carbon and like other elements carbon ‘decays’ over time where the atoms lose energy by emitting ionizing particles and radiation.

In some atoms such as uranium this happens very quickly, however, other atoms such as iron are highly stable and decay very, very slowly. Carbon, while it decays quicker than iron is still slow to lose energy but the energy loss is exact over time so by analysing carbon atoms and measuring their strength it can be quite accurately ascertained when the carbon originally formed.

Bringing Atomic Clock Precision to your Desktop

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

Atomic clocks have been a huge influence on our modern lives with many of the technologies that have revolutionised the way we live our lives relying on their ultra precise time keeping abilities.

Atomic clocks are far different to other chronometers; a normal watch or clock will keep time fairly accurately but will lose second or two each day. An atomic clock on the other hand will not lose a second in millions of years.

In fact it is fair to say that an atomic clock doesn’t measure time but is the foundations we base our perceptions of time on. Let me explain, time, as Einstein demonstrated, is relative and the only constant in the universe is the speed of light (though a vacuum).

Measuring time with any real precision is therefore difficult as even the gravity on Earth skews time, slowing it down. It is also almost impossible to base time on any point of reference. Historically we have always used the revolution of the earth and reference to the celestial bodies as a basis for our time telling (24 hours in a day = one revolution of the Earth, 365 days = one revolution of the earth around the Sun etc).

Unfortunately the Earth’s rotation is not an accurate frame of reference to base our time keeping on. The earth slows down and speeds up in its revolution meaning some days are longer than others.

Atomic clocks
however, used the resonance of atoms (normally caesium) at particular energy states. As these atoms vibrate at exact frequencies (or an exact number of times) this can be used as a basis for telling time. So after the development of the atomic clock the second has been defined as over 9 billion resonance ’ticks’ of the caesium atom.

The ultra precise nature of atomic clocks is the basis for technologies such as satellite navigation (GPS), air traffic control and internet trading. It is possible to use the precise nature of atomic clocks to synchronise computer networks too. All that is needed is a NTP time server (Network Time Protocol).
NTP servers receive the time from atomic clocks via a broadcast signal or the GPS network they then distribute it amongst a network ensuring all devices have the exact same, ultra precise time.

Next Generation of Accurate Atomic Clocks Starts Ticking as NIST scientists unveil new strontium clock

Sunday, April 26th, 2009

Those chronological pioneers at NIST have teamed up with the University of Colorado and have developed the world’s most accurate atomic clock to date. The strontium based clock is nearly twice as accurate as the current caesium clocks used to govern UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) as it loses just a second every 300 million years.

Strontium based atomic clocks are now being seen as the way forward in timekeeping as higher levels of accuracy are attainable that are just not possible with the caesium atom. Strontium clocks, like their predecessors work by harnessing the natural yet highly consistent vibration of atoms.

However, these new generations of clocks use laser beams and extremely low temperatures close to absolute zero to control the atoms and it is hoped it is a step forward to creating a perfectly precise clock.

This extreme accuracy may seem a step too far and unnecessary but the uses for such precision are many fold and when you consider the technologies that have been developed that are based on the first generation of atomic clocks such as GPS navigation, NTP server synchronisation and digital broadcasting a new world of exciting technology based on these new clocks could just be around the corner.

While currently the world’s global timescale, UTC, is based on the time told by a constellation of caesium clocks (and incidentally so is t he definition of a second as just over 9 billion caesium ticks), it is thought that when the Consultative Committee for Time and Frequency at the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM) next meets it will discuss whether to make these next generation of atomic clocks the new standard.

However, strontium clocks are not the only method of highly precise time. Last year a quantum clock, also developed at NIST managed accuracy of 1 second in 1 billion years. However, this type of clock can’t be directly monitored and requires a more complex scheme to monitor the time.

The Importance of the Atomic Clock

Friday, March 20th, 2009

Most people have vaguely heard of the atomic clock and presume they know what one is but very few people know just how important atomic clocks are for the running of our day to day lives in the twenty first century.

There are so many technologies that are reliant on atomic clocks and without many of the tasks we take for granted would be impossible. Air traffic control, satellite navigation and internet trading are just a few of the applications that are reliant on the ultra precise chronometry of an atomic clock.

Exactly what an atomic clock is, is often misunderstood. In simple terms an atomic clock is a device that uses the oscillations of atoms at different energy states to count ticks between seconds. Currently caesium is the preferred atom because it has over 9 billion ticks every second and because these oscillations never change it makes them a highly accurate method of keeping time.

Atomic clocks despite what many people claim are only ever found in large scale physics laboratories such as NPL (UK National Physical Laboratory) and NIST (US National Institute of Standards and Time). Often people suggest they have an atomic clock that controls their computer network or that they have an atomic clock on their wall. This is not true and what people are referring to is that they have a clock or time server that receives the time from an atomic clock.

Devices like the NTP time server often receive atomic clock signals form places such as NIST or NPL via long wave radio. Another method for receiving time from atomic clocks is using the GPS network (Global Positioning System).

The GPS network and satellite navigation are in fact a good example of why atomic clock synchonization is much needed with such high level of accuracy. Modern atomic clocks such as those found at NIST, NPL and inside orbiting GPS satellites are accurate to within a second every 100 million years or so. This accuracy is crucial when you examine how something like a cars GPS satellite navigation system works.

A GPS system works by triangulating the time signals sent from three or more separate GPS satellites and their onboard atomic clocks. Because these signals travel at the speed of light (nearly 100,000km a second) an inaccuracy of even one whole millisecond could put the navigational information out by 100 kilometres.

This high level of accuracy is also required for technologies such as air traffic control ensuring our crowded skies remain safe and is even critical for many Internet transactions such as trading in derivatives where the value can rise and fall every second.