New ‘Ytterbium’ Atomic Clock Dubbed as World’s Most Precise Clock

By  Aug 23, 2013 03:42 PM EDT
New ‘Ytterbium’ Atomic Clock Dubbed as World’s Most Precise Clock
NIST's ultra-stable ytterbium lattice atomic clock. Ytterbium atoms are generated in an oven (large metal cylinder on the left) and sent to a vacuum chamber in the center of the photo to be manipulated and probed by lasers. Laser light is transported to the clock by five fibers (such as the yellow fiber in the lower center of the photo).

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the agency in charge for keeping the official time in the U.S., has set a new record for time stability with its new pair of experimental ytterbium atomic clocks.

Atomic clocks are famous for being on the dot, precise down to fractions upon fractions of a second. Their intervals are so minute that their precision becomes invisible in most people’s daily lives. Atomic clocks are important in many technologies people use nowadays such as GPS and in controlling the wave frequency of television broadcasts.

The stability of an atomic clock is comparable to the accuracy of the duration of each tick goes along with every other tick. To maintain precision, atoms of rubidium or cesium are used in classic atomic clocks. NIST F-1, the atomic clock utilized for official time-keeping in the U.S., is using cesium atoms.

The new ytterbium clocks deliver an even more accurate time than the NIST F-1, approximately 10 times precise than the best published outcomes for other atomic clocks.

Andrew Ludlow, a physicist working with NIST, wrote in the report that the stability of the ytterbium lattice clocks makes way for numerous interesting practical applications of high-performance punctuality.

The new ytterbium clocks, similar to other atomic clocks, depend on atoms cooling down to near absolute zero. The frozen atoms – to almost 10 millionths of a degree above zero degrees, are poised in a visual lattice framework. A laser that “ticks” 518 trillion times in a second rouses a reckonable transition between energy levels in the atoms, of which there are almost 10,000. The key to the clock’s high stability is the great number of atoms.

The ticks of atomic clocks must be standardized for some time to offer the best results. The new ytterbium clocks are believed to attain that mean exponentially quicker that any atomic clocks.

The details of this study were published in the online journal Science.

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