“Astonishingly accurate” optical clock could be new world time standard

JILA-developed clock uses strontium atoms held in a lattice of laser light

JILA
Call it a clock's clock. Researchers say they have developed the world's most precise and accurate clock - besting the World's current timekeeping record holder -- the National Institute of Standards and Technology Quantum clock - by 50%.

The clock - developed by JILA, a joint physics institute of the University of Colorado at Boulder and NIST uses "strontium atoms held in a lattice of laser light" to achieve its precision and stability, the researchers said. Specifically, a few thousand atoms of strontium are held in a column of about 100 pancake-shaped traps called an optical lattice formed by intense laser light. JILA scientists said they detect strontium's "ticks" (430 trillion per second) by bathing the atoms in very stable red laser light, the group stated.

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The clock of course is way more complicated that the digital one sitting beside your bed.  From the JILA group's description of the strontium clock: "Precision refers to how closely the clock approaches the true resonant frequency at which its reference atoms oscillate between two electronic energy levels. The new strontium clock is so precise it would neither gain nor lose one second in about 5 billion years, if it could operate that long.  The strontium clock's stability-the extent to which each tick matches the duration of every other tick-is about the same as NIST's ytterbium atomic clock, another world leader in stability unveiled in August 2013. Stability determines in part how long an atomic clock must run to achieve its best performance through continual averaging. The strontium and ytterbium lattice clocks are so stable that in just a few seconds of averaging they outperform other types of atomic clocks that have been averaged for hours or days."

The JILA group says current international definition of units of time require the use of cesium-based atomic clocks, such as the current U.S. civilian time standard clock, the NIST-F1 cesium fountain clock.

"Hence only cesium clocks are accurate by definition, even though the strontium clock has better precision. The strontium lattice clock and some other experimental clocks operate at optical frequencies, much higher than the microwave frequencies used in cesium clocks. Thanks to the work at NIST, JILA and other research organizations across the world, the strontium lattice clock and other experimental clocks may someday be chosen as new timekeeping standards by the international community," JILA stated.

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