Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Mercury atomic clock keeps time with record accuracy

17.07.2006
An experimental atomic clock based on a single mercury atom is now at least five times more precise than the national standard clock based on a "fountain" of cesium atoms, according to a paper by physicists at the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the July 14 issue of Physical Review Letters.

The experimental clock, which measures the oscillations of a mercury ion (an electrically charged atom) held in an ultra-cold electromagnetic trap, produces "ticks" at optical frequencies. Optical frequencies are much higher than the microwave frequencies measured in cesium atoms in NIST-F1, the national standard and one of the world's most accurate clocks. Higher frequencies allow time to be divided into smaller units, which increases precision.

A prototype mercury optical clock was originally demonstrated at NIST in 2000. Over the last five years its absolute frequency has been measured repeatedly with respect to NIST-F1. The improved version of the mercury clock is the most accurate to date of any atomic clock, including a variety of experimental optical clocks using different atoms and designs.

The current version of NIST-F1--if it were operated continuously--would neither gain nor lose a second in about 70 million years. The latest version of the mercury clock would neither gain nor lose a second in about 400 million years.

"We finally have addressed the issue of systemic perturbations in the mercury clock. They can be controlled, and we know their uncertainties," says NIST physicist Jim Bergquist, the principal investigator. "By measuring its frequency with respect to the primary standard, NIST-F1, we have been able to realize the most accurate absolute measurement of an optical frequency to date. And in the latest measurement, we have also established that the accuracy of the mercury-ion system is at a level superior to that of the best cesium clocks."

Improved time and frequency standards have many applications. For instance, ultra-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.

Scientists have long recognized that optical atomic clocks could be more stable and accurate than cesium microwave clocks, which have kept world time for more than 50 years. Even with the latest results at NIST, however, optical clocks based on mercury, strontium or other atoms remain a long way from being accepted as standards. Research groups around the world would first need to agree on an atom and clock design to be used internationally.

In addition, a system of additional optical clocks would be needed to continuously keep time, because primary standard clocks--such as the mercury ion or other future optical standard--are generally operated only periodically for calibrations. NIST-F1, for instance, is operated several times a year for periods of about one month to calibrate the frequencies of several NIST microwave atomic clocks that continuously track current time. These clocks contribute to an international group of atomic clocks that define the official world time.

Laura Ost | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nist.gov

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht New quantum phenomena in graphene superlattices
19.09.2017 | Graphene Flagship

nachricht Solar wind impacts on giant 'space hurricanes' may affect satellite safety
19.09.2017 | Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

Im Focus: Fast, convenient & standardized: New lab innovation for automated tissue engineering & drug

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems Holding GmbH about commercial use of a multi-well tissue plate for automated and reliable tissue engineering & drug testing.

MBM ScienceBridge GmbH successfully negotiated a license agreement between University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG) and the biotech company Tissue Systems...

Im Focus: Silencing bacteria

HZI researchers pave the way for new agents that render hospital pathogens mute

Pathogenic bacteria are becoming resistant to common antibiotics to an ever increasing degree. One of the most difficult germs is Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a...

Im Focus: Artificial Enzymes for Hydrogen Conversion

Scientists from the MPI for Chemical Energy Conversion report in the first issue of the new journal JOULE.

Cell Press has just released the first issue of Joule, a new journal dedicated to sustainable energy research. In this issue James Birrell, Olaf Rüdiger,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

New quantum phenomena in graphene superlattices

19.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A simple additive to improve film quality

19.09.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>