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Signals from Distant Stars Connect Optical Atomic Clocks Across Earth for the First Time

10 Oct 2020, 12:15 UTC
Signals from Distant Stars Connect Optical Atomic Clocks Across Earth for the First Time
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Transportable radio telescopes could provide global high-precision comparisons of the best atomic clocks. (Credit: NICT)

TOKYO (NICT PR) — Using radio telescopes observing distant stars, scientists have connected optical atomic clocks on different continents. The results were published in the scientific journal Nature Physics (DOI: 10.1038/s41567-020-01038-6) by an international collaboration between 33 astronomers and clock experts at the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT, Japan), the Istituto Nazionale di Ricerca Metrologica (INRIM, Italy), the Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF, Italy), and the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures (BIPM, France).

The BIPM in Sèvres near Paris routinely calculates the international time recommended for civil use (UTC, Coordinated Universal Time) from the comparison of atomic clocks via satellite communications. However, the satellite connections that are essential to maintaining a synchronized global time have not kept up with the development of new atomic clocks: optical clocks that use lasers interacting with ultracold atoms to give a very refined ticking. “To take the full benefit of optical clocks in UTC, it is important to improve worldwide clock comparison methods.” said Gérard Petit, physicist at the Time Department at BIPM.

In this new research, highly-energetic extragalactic radio sources replace satellites ...

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