Atomic Clocks Are Now So Accurate They Can Detect Gravitational Waves

by | Nov 29, 2018 | Headline News | 21 comments

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    Atomic clocks, based on the minute oscillations of atoms, are the most precise timekeeping devices humans have created and they keep getting better. Atomic clocks are now so accurate that they can detect gravitational waves.

    According to Science Alert, every year, scientists make adjustments that improve the precision of these devices. Now, they’ve achieved new performance records, making two atomic clocks so precise they could detect gravitational waves, those faint ripples in the fabric of space-time.

    Both of the new record-breaking clocks are based on ytterbium atoms. In each clock, an optical lattice made of lasers holds a thousand of these atoms immobile. These lasers excite the electrons of the atoms, which then oscillate, switching with incredible regularity between two energy states.

    Like the ticking of an analog clock, this energy switching can be used to keep time – but with much greater precision than any analog or even digital clock. The most recent record-breaker, released last year, was so precise it would keep time without losing or gaining a second for 15 billion years.

    And the standard second is defined by the oscillations of a caesium atom. -Science Alert

    “The agreement of the two clocks at this unprecedented level, which we call reproducibility, is perhaps the single most important result because it essentially requires and substantiates the other two results,” Ludlow said. “This is especially true because the demonstrated reproducibility shows that the clocks’ total error drops below our general ability to account for gravity’s effect on time here on Earth,” the scientist added. “Hence, as we envision clocks like these being used around the country or world, their relative performance would be, for the first time, limited by Earth’s gravitational effects.”

    Atomic clocks have also been used to detect and measure time dilation, the effect of velocity or gravity on time. Relative velocity slows time. Greater gravity also slows time; for example, at higher altitudes on Earth time actually moves a wee bit faster.

    Because of this difference, atomic clocks can be placed at different altitudes to measure gravity itself. This means these new clocks could – theoretically – be used to measure the shape of Earth’s gravitational field, a field known as relativistic geodesy, to within an accuracy of a centimeter.

    But atomic clocks this precise, and so sensitive to gravity, could also potentially detect the incredibly faint signals from gravitational waves. –Science Alert

    The team’s research has been published in the journal Nature. Read the entire report here.

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      21 Comments

      1. Anonymous

        Now maybe they can give a precise definition of time, one that doesn’t rely on using itself to define itself.

        • Infidel

          No matter what the cesium clock says, it’s always beer:30 somewhere.

          • HooDunit

            A clock is a clock as long as there is a snooze button.

        • Paranoid

          Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?

          • Anonymous

            I’ve been considering the idea that time could be a where, not a when.

            A precise multidimensional location in n-dimensional space where everything exists simultaneously the same way an infinite number of sculptures exist within a block of marble but on a vastly fuller scale which our consciousness does not have the ability to perceive in full.

            • Nimbii

              Immanuel Kant wrote in the “Critique of Pure Reason” that “Space and time are forms of intuition.” (YIKES!)

      2. Dead Meat

        My clock told me it was time to punch out for the day and go home. That’s all that matters to me.

      3. Anonymous

        Atomic clocks countdown to atomic Armageddon

        • JRS

          Hmmm…so it turns out it’s just bogus chirp templates and white gaussian noise?

          I figgered they wuz pullin’ my leg…

      4. Sgt. Dale

        Next we will hear that they can tell us about Global Warming or Climate Change or what ever the FUCK they are calling it now.
        Who cares. This isn’t helping me PREP!!!!
        Sgt.

      5. rellik

        For all that we think we know,
        we are still quite ignorant.
        We don’t know, what we don’t know.
        Not that I think it is a bad thing,
        but we are prisoners here on Earth.
        I like my little piece of it.
        As for time, it is screaming by
        as I have way more days behind me than
        in front of me. It really doesn’t matter.
        One of my favorite philosophy classes
        was given by an Asian Indian whose
        English was so bad I barely understood
        what he was trying to teach us.
        The one thing I remember was;
        “time is like a river, you can never step
        in exactly the same place twice as the
        flow continues”.

      6. Jim in Va.

        I have fewer days ahead of me than behind and I’m going to spend them eating and grilling meat. Do what you want with yours!

      7. Beaumont

        “These lasers excite the electrons of the atoms, which then oscillate”

        Lasers, or gravity?

      8. DHConner

        Now: Can we find a way to harness or store these gravitational waves as we do electricity in batteries and power lines and use them for Space propulsion? All you “Dick Tracy” readers saw him do things with his watch that were only science fiction then and we now have watches that go far beyond that. So please, you out there who are inclined to be hasty, don’t jump too fast. You might crap and fall back in it. People 100 years ago would have said you were insane if you said in dead earnestness that man would be on the moon in less that 100 years. If you kept it up, they might have put you in the nuthouse as a real live crazy man. You wouldn’t have been – just ahead of your time in a way they couldn’t understand. Anyway, now my G-Force watch is receiving time signals from 6 different places on Earth, and those signals and the ones from WWV in Boulder, Colorado, are more accurate than ever. Science marches on – lunkheads occupy their place as a bump on a log, secure in their blissful ignorance.

      9. Jim

        Damn, now I will have to get to work on time.

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