Very precise time keeps the Internet and e-mail functioning, ensures television broadcasts arrive at our TVs and is integral to a network of global navigation satellites (such as the Global Positioning System) used for precision mapping and surveying, environmental monitoring and personal location-based services.
But time can only be useful if it is the same for everyone. And that requires a single source against which we can all check our clocks. The caesium fountain that NPL operates is one of only a handful of highly precise measurement devices around the world that inform the global primary time standard – the definition of accurate time. NPL’s atomic fountain measures the accuracy of existing time standards and feedback readings to inform any adjustments to Coordinated Universal Time – the basis for the worldwide system of timekeeping.
NPL’s instruments do not simply measure time. They measure the absorption of electromagnetic waves by caesium atoms and detect the resultant changes in the internal state of those atoms. The absorption peaks at a specific electromagnetic frequency. They can then lock this frequency and use the number of oscillations of that frequency, during a given period of time, to define a second, like the ticks of a conventional clock. One second, for example, corresponds to just over nine billion oscillations of an electromagnetic signal locked to the peak change in caesium atoms.
But an atomic clock is never perfect. One of the challenges when identifying the accurate frequency reference is that it tends to fluctuate very slightly and its average value is only known within a certain error range. In atomic fountains, these tiny errors are largely due to atoms colliding with each other inside the fountain. This is known as a collisional frequency shift. There have been several theories about what affects the collision shift and how to compensate for it but existing methods can take days or even weeks. The team at NPL has discovered a potential new approach, reducing the time it takes to confirm the accuracy of a frequency reading to a matter of hours – ten times faster than it can currently be done. It is based around the state of the atoms during their flight in the fountain. They can be in one of two states – upper or lower, or in a combination of the two. The NPL team in collaboration with NIST (USA) and PTB (Germany) discovered that the effect the collisions have on the frequency signal depends on which state the atoms are most in. Upper results in a negative shift, lower in a positive shift. This suggests the existence of a split between upper and lower state atoms that cancels the shift out and results in no affect to the frequency signal. Operating a caesium fountain at this ‘zero-shift’ point is an attractive proposition as it removes the need to compensate for collision shifts and accelerates the process of confirming the accuracy of frequency standards. This means laboratories providing the primary time standard can feed back more readings in any given period of time, increasing the accuracy of recommended adjustments to UTC, potentially improving the overall accuracy of the world’s time.
Fiona-Grace Peppler | EurekAlert!
Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time
17.10.2017 | University of Maryland
Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging
17.10.2017 | American Association for the Advancement of Science
University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event
On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...
Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.
Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....
Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).
When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...
Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.
How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.
It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...
17.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
10.10.2017 | Event News
17.10.2017 | Life Sciences
17.10.2017 | Life Sciences
17.10.2017 | Earth Sciences