A new clock is coming to town, an atomic clock, and it’s 100 times more stable than the best atomic clocks we have right now. It should keep time to within 1/20th of a second for 14 billion years, the age of the Universe.
To-date, the best clocks have used the electrons that orbit an atomic nucleus as the pendulum of a clock. But electrons have a fairly loose orbit that is a bit wobbly. Scientists have found a way use a neutron orbiting around an atomic nucleus as the pendulum, and since neutrons are actually in the nucleus of their atom their travel is almost completely unaffected by anything else. This means they make very good clock pendulums.
This research was conducted by scientists from the Theoretical Physics department of the University of New South Wales, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Nevada.
What’s this good for?
So what are increasingly accurate clocks good for? There are good “real world” and educational reasons for this. The better we can observe and measure smaller things, the better we can understand how they work, and the easier it is to find new places to explore. The ability to have “better time” is the ability to do “better physics” and other scientific disciplines. The better we can measure time the better we can understand our physical world – everything from “what is our altitude” to “there is a giant pool of fresh water under this spot, or “the glacier has gotten bigger or smaller”.