Atomic clock precision just got more exact

All you clock watchers who pride yourselves in punctuality will want to read this.

Heralding a new age of terrific timekeeping, a research group at JILA in Boulder — a joint institute of the University of Colorado-Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology — has unveiled an experimental strontium atomic clock that has set new world records for both precision and stability.

The JILA strontium lattice clock is about 50 percent more precise than the record holder of the past few years, NIST’s quantum logic clock.

The new clock is so precise it would neither gain nor lose one second in about 5 billion years, if it could operate that long. (This time period is longer than the age of the Earth, an estimated 4.5 billion years old.)

The strontium clock’s stability — the extent to which each tick matches the duration of every other tick — is about the same as NIST’s ytterbium atomic clock, another world leader in stability unveiled in August. Stability determines in part how long an atomic clock must run to achieve its best performance through continual averaging. The strontium and ytterbium lattice clocks are so stable that in just a few seconds of averaging they outperform other types of atomic clocks that have been averaged for hours or days.

“We already have plans to push the performance even more,” said NIST/JILA Fellow and group leader Jun Ye, who is also an adjunct professor of physics at CU-Boulder. “You can expect more new breakthroughs in our clocks in the next five to 10 years.”

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