Everything You Need to Know About the Optical Atomic Clocks: New Study Emerges


A team of scientists connected the optical atomic clocks on different regions utilizing radio telescopes surveying distant stars. 

The satellite connections essential to keeping a synchronized global time have not succeeded in keeping up with the development of new atomic clocks. So, the scientists realized a study discussing the importance of optical atomic clocks. Their research also aims to improve worldwide clock methods. Here is what you need to know.

Research Details

Scientists at the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NCIT, Japan) designed two radio telescopes, one deployed in Italy, and the other in Japan, to make a connection utilizing the procedure of Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI). 

Those telescopes can survey over a broad bandwidth, and scientists wanted to prove that the broadband VLBI has the potential to be a mighty tool for metrology, too. 

So, to reach the needed sensitivity, the small antennas ran flawlessly with a larger 34m radio telescope in Kashima, Japan, between October 2018 to February 2019. These were the last observations before the telescope was severely damaged by typhoon Faxai back in September 2019. 

The Goal

The team’s goal was to connect two optical clocks in Japan and Italy. These instruments can load ultra-cold atoms in an optical lattice, a so-called atomic trap developed with laser light. 

The clocks utilize various atomic species, such as strontium at NICT and ytterbium for the clock at INRIM (the Istituto Nazionale di Ricerca Metrologica). They’re also candidates for an upcoming redefinition of the second in the International System of Units (SI). 

Davide Calonico, the research at INRIM, released a statement about the new generation of optical clocks. He said: “[…] The road to a redefinition must face the challenge of comparing clocks globally, at the intercontinental scale, with better performances than today.”

Besides improving international timekeeping, the new development also opens more ways to study general relativity and fundamental physics, analyze variations of our planet’s gravitational field, and even interpret fundamental constants underlying physics. 

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