Scientists Developed Atomic Clocks So Powerful That They Are Able To Measure Gravitational Waves


Just in case you didn’t know, an Omega Speedmaster watch was accurate enough to time the rocket thrusts that returned the Apollo 13 astronauts to Earth.

But, still, even such a Speedmaster seems ancestral when you compare it to the new clocks that are described in a recent study that has been published in the journal Nature.

Keeping the exact time for 15 billion years 

The authors of the research describe that the clocks are so accurate that they would be able to keep the precise track of time for 15 billion years without losing or gaining a second. These clocks are able to pick up on the minute effects of relativity.

The clocks operate via an “optical lattice” of lasers which can trap atoms of ytterbium and monitor them as they switch between two energy states.

These which acts as the “ticking” of the clock. According to the text of the study: “By referencing atomic transitions, frequency (and thus time) can be measured more precisely than any other physical quantity…However, the theory of relativity prescribes that the passage of time is not absolute, but is affected by an observer’s reference frame.”

In school, we used to learn that a planet’s mass warps space and time like a weight on a rubber sheet.

The ytterbium optical lattice clocks notice this. If you move one farther away from the Earth’s surface, it will reflect the decreased effect of gravity.

Measuring gravitational waves and dark matter

Such an extreme sensitivity means that they could be used in order to figure out the shape of the Earth with an error margin of about 1 cm, based on a branch of mathematics called geodesy.

Besides measuring the Earth and the passing of time, the clocks might also be used to detect gravitational waves and even dark matter according to the study.

If you’re already thinking of saving some money to get yourself such a sci-fi clock, there are no plans to make these available for the general public.


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