Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have created what they say is the most accurate clock anywhere in the world, able to keep its ticking rate to a variation of less than two parts per every quintillion. This number, not only too infinitesimal for the average mind to comprehend, is also 10 times more accurate than any other clock out there.
The clock achieves this by using the element ytterbium, something that provides it with stability that the scientists say could have uses beyond simply telling time. Unlike clocks that use pendulums, the ytterbium clock utilizes approximately 10,000 rare-earth atoms cooled to 10/millionth of a single degree over absolute zero and then snared in a laser light optical lattice.
This light signal is them beamed at a precise frequency, moving electrons in the caesium atoms. Such is essentially the clock’s version of a tick, only the ticks number at 518 trillion times per second. This causes the stability, with larger numbers of atoms being responsible for a more stable rate. Furthermore, to get to this accurate rate, timing takes only one second rather than about 5 days, which is the current standard.
Said Andrew Ludlow, a physicist for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, “The stability of the ytterbium lattice clocks opens the door to a number of exciting practical applications of high-performance timekeeping.” Among these could be navigational uses, for example. Information about the clock was published in the journal Science.