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

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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.


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