A new atomic clock that is the most accurate ever made has been developed by a team of Japanese experts.
The ‘optical lattice’ clock is so sensitive it can detect changes in Earth’s gravity and will allow scientists to measure time to a staggering 17 digits.
It will also dramatically improve GPS tracking systems and will be able to detect height differences as small as 10cm.
The Japanese team said it would be a significant step forward for what is already one of the most accurate measuring devices man has ever created.
Atomic clocks are used to set International Atomic Time or the Universal Time Coordinated, which are different but more precise than Greenwich Mean Time, which most of us rely on.
Over the years, however, even atomic clocks lose accuracy and they have to be adjusted to make up for the lost fractions of a second.
This happens because of the ‘Dick effect’ which is when unwanted noise from the clock’s laser causes it to lose track.
The optical lattice clock avoids this and is much more stable so does not need to be adjusted so often.

It was created by Professor Hidetoshi Katori and his team at the University of Tokyo with the help of Professor Victor Flambaum, of the University of New South Wales in Australia.
Professor Flambaum said the lattice clock was like an egg carton with atoms placed in the divots.
‘An ion clock normally works with a single atom and you need to work this for a long time to achieve accuracy,’ he said.
‘In this latest clock you can manipulate thousands of atoms, so you can achieve a result much faster.’

‘It is so accurate that they can even feel differences in the gravitational potential of the Earth. IIn gravity fields time ticks slower so the ticking of the clock depends on how strong the gravitational potential of a body is’

 
In addition to being more accurate, the lattice clock could have applications in searching for minerals and hydrocarbons in the ground.
Improved accuracy in GPS would be useful because such devices rely on incredibly accurate timekeeping in order to function.
GPS trackers work by keeping in constant communication with satellites which broadcast their own position and time.
The computers inside the devices then compare their own time with the time sent by the satellite and use the difference to calculate their location.
For example, given that light travels at 186,000 miles per second if the satellite time happened to be one-thousandth of a second behind the GPS receiver's time, then the receiver would calculate that it was 186 miles from that satellite
Professor Flambaum said: ‘As a result of this work we can measure frequency of atomic clocks to 17 digits accuracy.
‘It is so accurate that they can even feel differences in the gravitational potential of the Earth.
‘In gravity fields time ticks slower so the ticking of the clock depends on how strong the gravitational potential of a body is.’
He added that another application could be oil exploration.
‘Because oil is a low density liquid, so gravitational potential of oil is lower than the rocks around.
‘You could search for minerals, and global positioning system on all levels, from cars to aircraft and spacecraft, what they call real-time relativistic geodesy’.(daily.mail.co.uk)

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