What is an Atomic Clock?

June 12, 2024

Researchers have built a portable optical atomic clock that can be used onboard ships.

About Atomic Clock:

  • An atomic clock is a device that measures time using the vibrations of atoms.
    • Specifically, it uses the oscillations of the electrons in atoms to keep time.
  • It is the most accurate time-keeping device available, with a margin of error of just a few billionths of a second per day.
  • Atomic clocks are far more precise than conventional clocks because atomic oscillations have a much higher frequency and are much more stable.
  • They are used in many applications that require very precise timing, such as GPS systems, telecommunications networks and scientific research.
  • How does an atomic clock work?
    • Atomic clocks work by using a type of atom called a "cesium atom".
    • Cesium atoms are very stable and have a very specific frequency at which their electrons vibrate.
    • This frequency is used as the basis for the atomic clock's timekeeping.
    • To measure time using cesium atoms, an atomic clock uses a device called a "microwave cavity".
    • The microwave cavity is a chamber that is filled with cesium vapor.
    • A microwave signal is then sent into the cavity, which causes the cesium atoms to vibrate.
    • As the cesium atoms vibrate, they emit radiation at a very specific frequency.
    • This frequency is then detected by a detector, which compares it to a standard frequency.
    • The difference between the two frequencies is used to adjust the clock's timekeeping.
  • Types of atomic clocks: There are two types of atomic clocks: cesium atomic clocks and hydrogen maser atomic clocks.
    • Cesium atomic clocks are the most common and are used to define the international standard for time, called Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).
    • Hydrogen maser atomic clocks are even more accurate than cesium atomic clocks and are used in scientific research.