Atomic Clock – Keeping the World Ticked

While most people think about the digital age and its computers, satellites, and mobile phones, the silicone chip is first on people’s minds. However, despite its importance in shaping the world around us, many of the technologies we take for granted would not be possible without the atomic clock.

What is an atomic clock?

The first atomic clock was developed in 1955 by the British doctor Louis Essen who worked during World War II on high-frequency radar, which led him to develop a resonance wavemeter that was used successfully to measure the speed of light. . Using the same technology he later developed the first exact atomic clock in 1955 at the National Physical Laboratory in the UK. This was based on the resonance of the cesium atom. According to quantum theory, atoms can only exist in some quantized energy states based on the orbits of the electrons around their nuclei.

A cesium clock operates by exposing atoms to microwaves until they oscillate at one of its resonant frequencies. It was discovered that a cesium atom would resonate at 9,192,631,770 hertz (times per second). Because of this accuracy in resonance and the high number of oscillations, atomic clocks (sometimes known as cesium oscillators) are exceptionally accurate. The first Essen device was accurate to one second in a thousand years, but the next generation of atomic clocks are so accurate now that they won’t lose a second for several hundred million years. Due to this high level of precision problems have arisen in the way we structure time scales, traditionally GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) has been the basis of time. GMT is based on the principle that the Sun is highest in the sky at noon (or above the Greenwich meridian line).

Unfortunately, because atomic clocks are so precise it has been found that the Earth itself is not as precise in its revolution and is often slowed down by the gravitational effects of the moon. If nothing is done about it then eventually International Atomic Time (TAI – indicated by atomic clocks) would tend to get out of sync with GMT and eventually night will slowly turn into day (albeit in several millennia). Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) was developed to counteract this situation. It is based on the TAI but represents the reduction of the Earth’s rotation by adding occasional “extra seconds”, 33 of which have been added since the 1970s.

Work of Atomic Clock and Benefits:

Atomic clocks are crucial for telecommunication networks. Voice and data transfers that must travel around the world in packets need to be time-stamped since time is the only reference point a computer can use to put these packets back together. Atomic clocks have also made satellite communication possible, as the speed of light is so fast (900,000 km per second) a small variation in time could create huge differences.

Global navigation satellite (GNSS) systems such as GPS (Global Positioning System) are highly dependent on atomic clocks as the time signal is what a GPS receiver uses to triangulate a location. Thanks to atomic clocks and devices such as the NTP (Network Time Protocol) server that distributes a reference of the atomic clock synchronization received through a radio or a GPS receiver, to a computer network, synchronizing computers to UTC.

Thanks to these types of technologies, electronic transactions can now be carried out within 5 nanoseconds. Without this technology, online trading such as the stock market, buying a plane ticket, and even the auction sites on the Internet would not be possible.

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