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The most accurate atomic clock will miss the end of the world by a second

An atomic clock that will be developed in the next decade will help prove theories in physics and develop medicines

21.2.2003

By: Lior Kodner, Haaretz, and Walla news!

If everything goes according to plan, by the end of the decade scientists from Washington will create a state-of-the-art atomic clock, which will accumulate a total delay of only one second from the day it is activated - until "the end of the world". The most accurate clock in the world will be used mainly for data communication, will make it possible to prove fundamental theories in physics and possibly also develop new medicines.

Today there are very precise atomic clocks: they accumulate lag or advance by one second, every 15 million years. All atomic clocks are based on measuring "ticks" - the rate at which electrons move around an atomic nucleus. The higher the ticking rate, while the deviation in the measurement does not increase - the more accurate the watch is considered to be. The most accurate watch from the old generation, is based on tracking the cesium atom (a soft element, belonging to the group of alkali metals) whose ticking rate is constant: 9,192,631,770 per second.

The new watch, which is being developed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in the USA, is based on measuring the ticks of a single ion - whose ticking rate is 1.065 quadrillions (10 to the 15th power) ticks per second. To measure the ticks, the scientists use a state-of-the-art laser device. "The new watch is very reliable," said researcher Scott Didams at the annual conference of the American Association for Scientific Research (AAAS) held in Denver, "but now we have to further improve its performance."

Tests conducted to date show that the clock accumulates a delay of one second every 100 million years. The researchers estimate that developments in the next decade will make it possible to extend this time period up to about 4.5 billion years - exactly when the solar system is expected to cease to exist, according to scientists.

Apparently, the question arises, why do we need such an accurate watch - in the development of which tens of millions of dollars are invested. The researchers point to four areas of research that may receive a significant jump with the start of using the watch:

* Biology. New generation watches will help scientists monitor processes that take place inside human cells. This will make it possible to better understand diseases such as cancer and possibly also develop innovative drugs.

* Physics. As a general rule, an accurate examination of time allows distances to be accurately measured as well (based on the speed of light). According to Einstein's theory of relativity, time flows at a different rate on Earth and in space. According to Dr. Nir Davidson, from the Department of Physics of Complex Systems at the Weizmann Institute of Science, it will be possible to prove this theory only with very precise clocks, because the time difference is minimal. "Almost every physical revolution started with a very small effect," says Davidson. "In Einstein's theory of relativity, the change in the rate of time flow for objects moving at high speed is about a billionth of a second. If we manage to show this small change using a very accurate clock, only then will we prove the theory of relativity and determine that Newton was not completely right."

In addition to this, accurate clocks will make it possible to determine whether the laws of physics change with the passage of time. "For the purpose of the test, a scientific experiment must be carried out and repeated exactly one year later", explains Davidson, "only with a very accurate watch will it be possible to see minute changes that occurred in the same experiment after just one year."

* Navigation. The GPS is a satellite system that helps a person to know his exact location. The system crosses data coming from three satellites, based on the time it takes for the signal from the GPS to reach the satellite. A more accurate watch can shorten the error range of the device to a few centimeters. Such a level of accuracy will allow more accurate data on continental drift and other geological changes to be obtained.

* Communication. Sophisticated data transmission systems operate at very high speed. If there is no coordination between the clocks of the information provider and the information receiver, there may be problems in deciphering the information that passes between them. A uniform standard for a fast atomic clock will allow full coordination between the computers.

Courtesy of Walla

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