Most clocks get progressively less accurate as time goes on, the only deviance from this near-universal truth is by how much. However the atomic fountain clock has gotten more accurate with time. By the latest measurement, the clock will neither gain nor lose a second in 60 million years, with a certainty of 0.53e-15. Some of you might recall that atomic clocks generally lose roughly one second every few million years. Atomic clocks function by measuring the oscillation of cesium atoms, which oscillates roughly 9 billion times per second.
The NIST-F1′s improved accuracy comes from better lasers, software and equipment; the cesium atoms being spread over a larger space which reduces the frequency of particle interaction; and the ability to control the magnetic fields within the clock, and are able to quantify and compensate for them.
The usefulness of a more accurate atomic clock seems somewhat unclear to me. The press release states that the improved accuracy allows for better precision: navigation systems, telecommunications networks, and wireless and deep space communications all may benefit, though I question whether the “benefit” has any measurable, real-world impact.
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