NIST: NIST-F2 atomic clock capable of keeping accurate time for next 300m years


The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency of the US Department of Commerce, on Thursday, unveiled a new atomic clock that is claimed to be capable of maintaining perfect time for the next 300 million years.

The new atomic clock, dubbed as NIST-F2, is dubbed as the most precise timekeeper yet developed and will serve as the U.S. civilian time and frequency standard.

Researchers have made this clock free from all kinds of background radiation errors and three times more accurate than the current NIST-F1 which has served as the official source of time in the United States since 1999.

Thomas O’Brian, chief of the NIST’s Time and Frequency Division, said that the F2 is so exact it is capable of maintaining perfect time for 300 million years, neither gaining nor losing one second during that time.

“Scientists at NIST are already working on the next generation of atomic clock that will be even better,” O’Brian said. “So while we’re celebrating this accomplishment, one of the burdens of being an atomic clock scientist is that you’re aware that the competition is always ahead of you.”

“If we’ve learned anything in the last 60 years of building atomic clocks, we’ve learned that every time we build a better clock, somebody comes up with a use for it that you couldn’t have foreseen,” said NIST physicist Steven Jefferts, lead designer of NIST-F2.

NIST said it will run both the NIST-F2 and NIST-F1 simultaneously at its campus in Boulder, Colorado and compare their measurements over long periods of time. Both clocks use cesium atoms to determine the exact length of a second.

Researchers measure the frequency of a particular transition in the cesium atom – which is more than 9.1 billion vibrations per second – and use it to define one second. O’Brian said that the F2 was made more accurate by lowering the temperature of the area surrounding it.