back to article Physicists fire up strontium atomic clock

US physicists are rather pleased with themselves having perfected a clock "so accurate it will neither gain nor lose even a second in more than 200 million years", Reuters reports. The atomic timepiece, developed in the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA) - a collaboration between US Commerce Department's …


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  1. Tim Lake

    When do they start making watches?

    And handing them out to public transport drivers

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Now we'll be able to accurately measure...

    ... just how late the trains really are!

    /Mine's the anorak with the jotter in the pocket...

  3. Adrian

    When the laser dies/stops,

    what happens to all that strontium in suspension, will the US Navy be tasked with blowing that out of the lab with ballistic missiles ?

  4. Remy Redert


    Ultraviolet and infrared are sometimes both categorised as being light.

    Personally I just lump the whole lot in with the rest of the electromagnetic radiation spectrum.

  5. Julian Cook

    so what happens if i pull out the plug

    and have they taken into account the cost of the power bill, what with a 15% rise this year by the time 200 million years has passed it would take the entire GDP of the earth just to pay the bill. Given that all the tree huggers belive that the earth will be long gone before this i really don't see the need for a clock.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    +/- 1s/200 milion years ...@ 0m

    If Einstein is right, gravitic field has effect to observed passage of time and higher you are in the field, more prominent the effect is.

    So, putting a clock this accurate into a lift in some high-rise building could compleatly ruin its accuracy against a clock staying stationary?

    Some timepiece.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Bet you it isn't that acurate

    I'm willing to bet 100 gadzillion £'s that it will lose 5 seconds before 100 million years time.

    If I am proved wrong, I will gladly pay up....

  8. Whitter

    Methinks not

    Do these folks seriously believe that during the next 200 million years, nobody will ever pull out the plug for a bit so they can do some hoovering under the table?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Your late....

    Your late... please make up 0.0000195892 seconds at the end of the day!

  10. Red Bren

    Thieves of time?

    Where will this madness end? When they measure the tick of the universe? Then we'll be in no end of trouble! Haven't they read their Terry Pratchett?

    We're doomed, I tell you! DOOOOMED!!!

  11. Richard Kay
    Paris Hilton

    Leap seconds

    Because atomic clocks measure time more accurately than the slowing-down earth they have to introduce leap seconds occasionally to keep earth time in sync with atomic time, instead of having to adjust atomic time to the less reliable planetary time. Last occasion there was a leap second I was able to observe the effect of having 61 seconds in the final minute of the day in my server's NTP (network time protocol) synchronisation logs. My watch also automatically synchronises to atomic time, (via a radio signal from Rugby), so there is no need to put an atomic timer directly into a wrist watch.

    Paris because Paris wanted the meridian but Greenwich got it.

  12. Aram

    Frickin' lasers

    Not a single mention of any sharks?

  13. Eddy Ito


    What's the big f-ing deal? They're still going to reset the damn thing twice a year so the hoi polloi can fool themselves into getting up an hour earlier in the summer. After all, resetting the time the alarm goes off is far too difficult, we should reset every damn clock in the our tiny little worlds. All of it for what? To "save daylight" when the damn sun is up before 4 am and doesn't go down until after 10 pm. It's akin to saving snowflakes in a bloody blizzard! Save daylight my ass, some pol is making money off this racket some how.

    Can I get a flaming black helicopter icon please?

  14. Mark Broadhurst

    Yet theres still 12 hours in the Day...

    Accuracy like that should be decimal!

  15. Jonathan McComb

    @ Richard Kay

    The MSF Time signal is currently broadcast from Anthorn Radio Station in Cumbria, since BT's contract to transmit it from Rugby ended in 2007.

  16. Hate2Register

    How many seconds before human extinction?

    Wow, mathematicians should be able to work out how much time humans have left before extinction.

    Now, with this cool new technology, we can estimate how much time we have left, accurate to 1/200,000,000 seconds. Spiffing!

  17. Fluffykins Silver badge

    Oh my goodness

    IS THAT THE TIME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    at the third stroke...

    hmm... but how do they set it to the right time in the first place?

  19. Kevin Dwyer
    Thumb Up

    @Richard Kay

    "Paris because Paris wanted the meridian but Greenwich got it."

    Excellent !!!

  20. Stu

    wonderful time piece, but...

    Even with all that technology going into making such a precise time piece, im still going to be late into work tomorrow, and you can guarantee that im going to be late for the next 200 years too!!

  21. Anonymous Coward

    Re:Bet you it isn't that acurate


    You are on!

  22. jim
    Paris Hilton

    @ WTF

    How will they set the correct time when they turn it on for the first time?

    Will they ring 123?

    Who stole my coat........

  23. John Savard

    Length Instead of Time

    At one time, the second was defined in terms of Cesium, because it was easy to put a microwave signal into electronics for telling time, while the light wavelength of Krypton was used to define the metre.

    They decided to drop Krypton, and define the speed of light to get the length standard.

    If they do switch to Strontium as the new standard, because a light wavelength lends itself to interferometry, clearly they should switch to defining the metre in terms of Strontium, and letting the second fall out of being the time it takes for light to travel so many of those metres

  24. Chris Bradshaw

    Re: Re:Bet you it isn't that acurate

    I'll selflessly volunteer to hold the gadzillions in escrow until the 200 million years are up :-)

  25. Anonymous Coward

    Not that type of clock!

    I assume all the people worrying about why they need such accuracy when there are leap seconds, daylight savings time etc are joking?

    This isnt a clock it is a "Clock Source" i.e. it provides timing information, it is not like a wrist watch or a wall clock (although it could great accuracy in any device built along those lines which takes its input from this clock source).

    The global telecomms networks and other applications require accurate "timing" to synchronise the signals being passed from one node to the next.

  26. GrahamT

    Time is an illusion...

    ... Lunchtime doubly so.

    Douglas Adams

  27. Dave

    I got horribly confused...

    becos I think I may have misread: "cocks that use moving balls of atoms"

    it's the donkey jacket with the black plastic elbow patches

  28. John M

    @Stu and AC

    I'll monitor the bet and hold the money. Please pay it into my account at Bank of Nigeria...

  29. Andrew J. Winks

    Let's have a useful precision

    If you want to "sell" us a clock that is out by a second in 200m years, then we expect it to last at least that long. Why not, for instance, claim 5 nanoseconds imprecision per year?

  30. Anonymous Coward


    Does this mean Flavor Flav will be updating his timepiece?

    Confused though - what do they use to measure the error?

    @Mark Broadhurst - the metric system is the tool of the devil! My car gets forty rods to the hogshead and that's the way I likes it.

  31. Jason Holloway


    Fantastic stuff. This means I can now have the most accurate time signal to set my wristwatch by. So, err, what's the time, please? Just email it to me when you have a moment...

  32. Anonymous Coward

    re: +/- 1s/200 milion years ...@ 0m

    ...They've already done this experiment with two Cesium clocks. The further away you are from the massive object (in this case the Earth), the faster the clocks tick. They put a Cesium clock aboard a airliner, flew it around a while and compared it with a clock left on Earth... And found a difference, in line with what was predicted by relativity. Which also illustrates the need for high-accuracy clocks when investigating fundamental physics. I just wonder how they even synchronize these. They'd almost have to use the exact same length of wire going to both clocks when they send the electronic signal to 'reset'... far as measuring the ticking of the universe, I suppose you could say that the clock speed of the universe is the speed of light. The universe is a computer, or running on one? (see Jack Chalker's "Well World" series)

  33. Anonymous Coward


    Your watch could already be off by more than 300msec...Radio waves aren't instantaneous, they do take a period of time to travel. If you don't "program" in the distance to the clock from your own time piece then you are already "late".

  34. Graham Marsden

    @ Jason Holloway

    > what's the time, please? Just email it to me when you have a moment.

    I've got the time, I've got it written down on a piece of paper!

    - With apologies to the Goons

  35. Anonymous Coward


    It's believed that this clock will be powered by the electricity generated by 1000 gerbils... failing that wind power... excellent

  36. The Prevaricator

    the real use for this is...

    Now I can show you that I can press start and stop on my watch timer quicker than you... to 13 decimal places....

    oh shit. 0.3598321943201 seconds again :-(

  37. Paul
    Paris Hilton

    @jason holloway

    it's now 10:40:00.00



  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not at all accurate ...

    I have tested it against my watch, and it seems to be gaining time ...


  39. Eddy Ito

    Sadness happens

    "I assume all the people worrying about why they need such accuracy when there are leap seconds, daylight savings time etc are joking?"

    Ok, I'll try this again. Can I please get a flaming black helicopter icon that says "joke alert?"

  40. night troll


    Replicas will be availible in an e-mail comming to you soon.

    P.S. Our replicas may look like the fake Rolex we tried to flog you last week. ;-)

  41. Phillip Brown


    "My watch also automatically synchronises to atomic time,..."

    "So what time is its now?"

    "About quarter past..."

  42. Charles Manning
    Paris Hilton

    @Eddy - Cure for daylight savings

    If people want to get up an hour earlier isn't it just easier to move to a city that is 15 degrees East at the start of summer, then move back at the end of summer? You can leave your summer clothes at the 15 deg E place and the woolies at the winter residence.

    That's much easier than trying to remember setting the clock forwards or backwards.

    [PH coz she probably has a few houses].

  43. Anonymous Coward

    "What time is it, Eccles?"

    Well worth a read:

    There are videos of the sketch on YouTube with a background of mad clocks, but the one I looked at was contaminated by idiot audience laughter.

  44. André Marques

    Why bother making an watch?

    Just stick it in a phone! That's where everyone gets the time anyway...

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