If you have ever wondered how we keep time so accurately, the answer is an atomic clock. It is a type of clock specifically designed to measure the length of a second with incredible accuracy. The second is defined by the International System of Units (SI) as the time required for a cesium-133 atom to oscillate in a specific state accurately. The resonator of an atomic clock is regulated by the frequency of electromagnetic microwave radiation emitted or absorbed by the energy change of an atom or molecule.
Atomic clocks have been around since the 1950s, and they aren’t something you will find in your home anytime soon. They can be large, as big as a closet, with a stainless steel mesh, lasers, wires, and cables all connected to a vacuum chamber that houses tiny atoms, stars of the show.
So how does this clock work? The frequency of the quartz oscillator is converted into another frequency that is applied to a group of atoms. If the derived frequency is correct, it will cause many electrons in the atoms to change their energy level. This allows us to determine if the crystal oscillator is off frequency and by how much. The atoms can calculate a “correction” to the crystal oscillator to bring it back to the correct frequency. This correction is calculated every few seconds and applied to the crystal oscillator in the Deep Space Atomic Clock.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is the most accurate atomic clock?
The most accurate atomic clock is currently the National Institute of Standards and Technology-F1 (NIST-F1), which is located in Boulder, Colorado, USA. It is accurate to within one second in 100 million years.
What is the importance of atomic clocks?
The importance of atomic clocks lies in their extraordinary accuracy, which has contributed significantly to modern timekeeping, satellite navigation, and global communication systems.
How accurate is an atomic clock?
An atomic clock is incredibly accurate, with some atomic clocks able to measure time to within one second in millions of years.
Atomic clocks are an essential part of modern timekeeping and global communication systems. Their remarkable accuracy comes from using the resonant frequencies of atoms as a resonator, where the resonator is regulated by the frequency of electromagnetic microwave radiation emitted or absorbed by the energy change of an atom or molecule. These clocks are not ones you would find in your home; however, they contribute to the proper functioning of essential communication and navigational systems.