Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Clock comparison yields clues to 'constant' change

19.02.2007
Years of comparisons among the world's best atomic clocks—based on different atoms—have established the most precise limits ever achieved in the laboratory for detecting possible changes in so-called "constants" of nature. The comparisons at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) may help scientists test the latest theories in physics and develop a more complete understanding of the history of the universe.

Some astronomical and geological studies suggest there might have been very small changes in the values of fundamental constants over billions of years, although the results have been inconsistent and controversial. If fundamental constants are changing, the present-day rates of change are too small to be measured using conventional methods.

However, a new comparison of NIST's cesium fountain and mercury ion clocks, scheduled to appear in this week's issue of Physical Review Letters,* has narrowed the range in which one of them—the "fine-structure constant"— possibly could be changing by a factor of 20. Widely used in physical theory and experiments, the fine-structure constant, represents the strength of the interaction between electrons and photons.

Astronomers and geologists have attempted to detect changes in natural constants by examining phenomena dating back billions of years. The NIST experiments attained the same level of precision by comparing the relative drifts in the "ticks" of an experimental mercury ion clock, which operates at optical frequencies, and NIST-F1, the national standard cesium clock, which operates at lower microwave frequencies. These data can be plugged into equations to obtain upper limits for possible rates of change of the fine structure constant in recent times.

A second study, based on seven years of comparisons of cesium and hydrogen clocks at NIST and in Europe,** achieved record limits on Local Position Invariance, the principle that two clocks based on natural frequencies of different atoms should undergo proportional frequency shifts when subjected to the same changes in gravitational field. The new experiments lowered the upper limit for a possible violation of LPI, by more than 20 times.

Changes in physical constants such as the fine structure constant or the gravitational constant would violate Albert Einstein's original theory of general relativity. Such violations are predicted in recent theories aimed at unifying gravitation and quantum mechanics. NIST scientists now plan an all-optical-frequency comparison of the mercury ion clock with an aluminum ion atomic clock, which could increase measurement precision further, offering a more stringent test of the theoretically predicted changes. Conducting such tests with many different types of atomic clocks offers the best chance of eliminating extraneous factors to clearly identify which, if any, of the fundamental "constants" are changing over time.

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

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Shape matters when light meets atom
05.12.2016 | Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore

nachricht Climate cycles may explain how running water carved Mars' surface features
02.12.2016 | Penn State

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: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

IHP presents the fastest silicon-based transistor in the world

05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

InLight study: insights into chemical processes using light

05.12.2016 | Materials Sciences

High-precision magnetic field sensing

05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>