What is and what is an atomic clock, explained in a simple way

What is and what is an atomic clock, explained in a simple way

An atomic clock is the most accurate watch we know, but in few places they explain why it is called atomic or how it works.

So we have decided to take faces in the matter and try to explain it in a simple way without going into complicated details, but telling the scientific bases and explaining why an atomic clock is so accurate that We will never see a delay neither in our life nor in that of our solar system.

It is this unprecedented precision that makes the atomic clock the best time measurement system, and it is the reason why they are not only used in research, where they are fundamental as we will see, but they are also used to keep all official clocks synchronized to the second or even more precisely.

How does an atomic clock work and why is it called an atomic

A atomic clockAs one can imagine, it works with tomes; in theory only one is needed to build an atomic clock. The idea of ​​these clocks is based on exploiting the properties of certain atomic levels. These atomic levels are unstable and when an electron is excited to them, after a time they end up falling to another stable state. The energy that is released in the form of radiation has unique properties that are defined by the levels between which the electron jumps.

In fact, this precision (which is fundamentally given, not by the measuring instruments) is so great that the vibration frequency of this emitted radiation is what used in an atomic clock as a universal standard Since the levels and type of atom are defined, this frequency of vibration is always identical anywhere in the universe. So universal is this property that the rest of time units are measured based on these vibrations, as you can read on Wikipedia:

A second is the duration of 9 192 631 770 oscillations of the radiation emitted in the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium atom 133 istope (133Cs), at a temperature of 0 K

The importance and usefulness of atomic clocks in research

Having an atomic clock of such precision can overkill, but the reality is that for research this precision is very valuable. And we’re not just talking about timing reaction times in chemistry or measuring any other type of experiment in which time plays an important role, like PTAs to find gravitational waves. An atomic clock is useful for measuring variations in the speed of time, you see.

One of the most famous experiments that is only possible using an atomic clock is that of sending planes in opposite directions around the Earth and seeing the difference in time, thus verifying that the special relativity is fulfilled. Another, also related to Einstein but this time with general relativity, consists of placing an atomic clock in the basement of a skyscraper and another on the ceiling and seeing the difference between the two. For these things it is crucial to have a precision like only an atomic clock can give us.

Atomic clocks will never reach our faces

The only problem with atomic clocks is that require very stable environments and very cold temperatures for optimal precision. In addition to that, the precision we have achieved with current watches means that an atomic watch for everyone is not a thing with a large market or massive sales prospects. However, and we see this constantly, there are a lot of people in the world who do not know what to do with their money.

Maybe these people are willing to pay the exorbitant price It could cost an accurate atomic wristwatch, simply to be able to say that they have something unique, for the rest of mortals the atomic clock will always remain a technological conquest as a species and an instrument to know more and to know better what the universe is like. In which we live.

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