Atomic Clock Can Detect Minute Changes in the Fabric of Space-Time

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Scientists have created a new atomic clock that detect can minute changes in the fabric of space-time. The new clock that uses a strontium atom is so precise that it will neither gain nor lose one second in the next 15 billion years. Moreover, it can detect minuscule ticks in the speed of the cosmic clock whether if it is under two centimeters farther or closer to the center of the Earth due to the properties of gravity.

Jun Ye, a physicist at JILA, stated, “Time can be intricately connected to gravity.” Although this sounds like science fiction, the notion of it lies within one of Einstein’s basic theories. The ability of the hyper-sensitive clock to determine the tiniest changes in depth or altitude is based on Einstein’s theory of relativity. The farther an object gets from a central point of gravity, the faster time moves. Researchers have proved this theory over the decades by comparing the speeds of other hyper-sensitive clocks located at different altitudes, either on board airplanes or satellites, and comparing them to those on the ground.

Though, decades have come and gone, allowing scientists to create an even better atomic clock. This allows scientists to detect a change in time even with a two centimeter fluctuation in altitude from the center of the Earth. Ye stated the new version of the atomic clock is a modified model of an optical lattice clock that counts the spins of strontium atoms that are caught within a network of lasers. They used a strontium atom because it is a very stable atom. Ye explained the clock measures of speed of an electron as it goes around the nucleus of the atom at just about one million billion times per second.

To actually calculate the movement of the electron, the research team hit a few thousand strontium atoms with a “clock laser.” The laser can be configured so that it rises and falls in its electric field to match the orbit of the electrons around the nucleus of the strontium atom. The result of this was an atomic clock that is several orders of magnitude more precise than the cesium atomic clock that is used currently.

The cesium atomic clock that is used now is like a wall clock with a second hand that goes around at nine billion times per second. Though, Ye explained the strontium atomic clock, “moves at the speed of a million billion times per second.” Moreover, he stated they are, “basically keeping track of ripples of light,” detecting minute changes in the fabric of space-time.

In the latest process of the formation of the optical lattice clock, the researchers were able to reduce timing errors by building highly sensitive thermometers around the strontium atoms. Therefore, the effects of the heat on the atoms can be measured more accurately. Furthermore, they were able to reduce the effects of the network of lasers on single atoms to better measure the movement of electrons.

An atomic clock with this level of preciseness may seem daft; however, it has great scientific implications. The new clock will allow scientists to better understand the fundamental laws that govern space-time, as well as providing more insight into the properties of dark matter. Since the strontium atomic clock can detect minute changes in the fabric of space-time, one may think that a more precise clock would be impossible to make. Though, Ye stated if scientists can make a clock 1,000 times more accurate it would be possible to, “hear the symphony of the Universe.

By Alex Lemieux


Seattle Times

National Monitor

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Photo by Nathanmac87 – Flickr License