Colorado Scientists Invent World’s Best Clock

A Mr. and Mrs. J. Carmichael Krox Have Just gone to bed near the town of Fort Knox. And they, by the way have the finest of clocks. I’m not at all sure that I quite quite understand just how the thing works, with one extra hand. But I do know this clock does one very slick trick. It doesn’t tick tock. How it goes, is tock tick. So, with ticks in its tocker, and the tocks in its ticker, It saves lots of time and the sleepers sleep quicker.

— Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book

Suess be damned, the truth of the matter is that the finest clock in the world is right here in Colorado.The clock is at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a part of the United States Department of Commerce, in Boulder, Colorado.

The new atomic clock, based on a single mercury ion in an “optical clock” is ten times as accurate as the previous standard based on a cloud of cesium atoms, which is the basis of the international definition of the second.  It is accurate to one second per 70 million years, and a newer experimental version will be accurate to one second per 400 million years.

Why bother?

[U]ltra-precise clocks can be used to improve synchronization in navigation and positioning systems, telecommunications networks, and wireless and deep-space communications. Better frequency standards can be used to improve probes of magnetic and gravitational fields for security and medical applications, and to measure whether “fundamental constants” used in scientific research might be varying over time-a question that has enormous implications for understanding the origins and ultimate fate of the universe.

Hat Tip to Science News.

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Andrew Oh-Willeke

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