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The world’s most accurate clock has set a new record

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Precision timekeeping has moved on from atomic clocks to optical atomic clocks, which are a big step forward. What these instruments can do to keep accurate time has been getting better and better over the last few years. They are now at an amazing level that is far above what regular atomic clocks can do.

Atomic clocks use cesium atoms that have been cooled almost to absolute zero. Being able to measure the resonant frequency of these atoms lets it keep time. Most atomic clocks don’t go off by more than one second every 300 million years. Scientists realized they could do better, though. They found that a “web of light,” or optical lattice, could be used to trap and measure tens of thousands of atoms.

There are 40,000 strontium atoms in this lattice, which is only a tiny bit above absolute zero. The ticking of this clock is the electrons in this atom moving from one level of energy to another. With an error of only 8.1 parts per tenth of a billionth of a billionth, researchers were able to measure time.

You might be wondering why being so precise is helpful. Aren’t atomic clocks accurate enough for people? Yes and no are the answers. Atomic clocks are very accurate, which has made many parts of our lives easier. One that is used a lot is GPS. If optical clocks were used instead, they would make accuracy at least 1,000 times better. But it will also give us new ways to test basic physics.

“There will be very interesting discoveries waiting for us if we get to the times that are sensitive to the very small space-time curvature,” Professor Jun Ye told IFLScience when he won the 2022 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. He is a senior author on the paper.

One thing that could be done is to study general relativity with these clocks. Some atomic clocks, like those on GPS satellites, already experience this, but the extra accuracy lets us check our assumptions more thoroughly and maybe see things we haven’t seen before.

Ye said in a statement, “We’re exploring the edges of measurement science.” “When you can measure things with this much accuracy, you start to see things that we could only guess about before.”

This clock is so accurate that it can detect effects that are so minute that theories like general relativity can explain them, even at the microscopic level. It’s testing the limits of what’s possible with keeping track of time.

In the map app on your phone, accuracy might not seem very important, but it will make a big difference as people continue to explore the solar system. It could be the start of big steps forward in quantum computing.

Ye, from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Colorado Boulder, said, “If we want to land a spacecraft on Mars with pinpoint accuracy, we’ll need clocks that are orders of magnitude more accurate than what we have now in GPS.” “This new clock is a big step in the right direction.”

The results will be written up in a paper that will come out next week in Physical Review Letters.

As Editor here at GeekReply, I'm a big fan of all things Geeky. Most of my contributions to the site are technology related, but I'm also a big fan of video games. My genres of choice include RPGs, MMOs, Grand Strategy, and Simulation. If I'm not chasing after the latest gear on my MMO of choice, I'm here at GeekReply reporting on the latest in Geek culture.

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Physics

Light is the fastest thing that can “move” across a surface

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Einstein’s theory of special relativity says that it is impossible to move faster than light in a vacuum.

Things that don’t have mass have to move at the speed of light. But things that do have mass can’t get close to 299,792,458 meters per second (983,571,056 feet per second) without using up all of their energy. Physicists and sci-fi authors have tried to get around this by using concepts like the warp drive. But it’s likely that these will be illegal because of those pesky physics laws. Traveling faster than light can cause paradoxes that break the rules of the universe.

You are not in a dark room, though, because there is something in this room right now that can slow down or stop light. It is possible for shadows to go faster than light, and they can even smash through it.

You might ask things like, “What the hell are you talking about?” Imagine that you have a flashlight that is strong enough to light up some of the moon. If you quickly move your finger across the front of the flashlight, the shadow it casts can move across the moon’s surface at speeds much faster than light.

If you wave a laser across the night sky, you can get the same kind of effect. Think of a huge dome that is, say, 100 light-years across and surrounds you. When this laser hits that dome 100 years from now, the points will fly across it at speeds much faster than light.

But these two examples are just tricks.

Astrophysicist Michio Kaku told Big Think, “There is no message, no net information, and no physical object that actually moves along this image. There is only the image of the beam as it races across the night sky.”

No, the laser point isn’t really moving. What you’re seeing are photons hitting the dome and then different photons hitting a different part of the dome 100 years later after you moved your laser.

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The universe and physics stayed the same because nothing really moved faster than light, and no information was sent.

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Space Exploration

Someone in high school builds a model rocket that can land vertically, like a Falcon 9 Booster

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After three years of hard work, a high school student has finished a big project: making a model rocket that lands vertically.

It’s really rocket science to say that landing a rocket vertically is not easy. And SpaceX will tell you that they have blown up many a rocket stage while trying to land rocket boosters. But sometimes they do land before they blow up.

A student named Aryan Kapoor started building his own vertical lander in August 2021. At the end of May 2024, he finally hit the ground.

In a video for his YouTube channel JRD Propulsion, Kapoor said, “This rocket works differently than other model rockets of its kind.” “My rockets don’t have fins to keep them stable; instead, they use thrust vector control.” Thrust vector control lets the rocket’s engine move like a gimbal, giving the pilot control over the rocket’s path in space.

Even more impressive is the fact that software controls the rocket’s flight on its own.

“To guide the rocket, a flight computer makes all inflight decisions, such as steering the rocket and deciding when to ignite the landing motor.”

The onboard barometer gave the wrong reading of the rocket’s altitude during its first test flight in 2023. Kapoor wrote on his JRD Propulsion website, “The rocket did well in all other ways and collected useful data.” “Future flights will use only the accelerometer to measure altitude, providing much higher accuracy and precision.”

On his fifth attempt, Kapoor has landed successfully once more.

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Space Exploration

The Moon’s first cave has been found – Is it ready to be lived in?

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Atunnel has been found for the first time under the moon’s surface, right where people first set foot on the Sea of Tranquility. Although this isn’t the most likely place to build a colony, there are probably more caves in the area, which makes it more likely that people will move there in the future.

Even though the cost of launch is going down, it will still be very expensive to send heavy things to the moon for a while. Being able to get as much as possible on site is important for even a short-term base, let alone something permanent. A lot of attention has been paid to finding water sources lately, but shelter is also very important.

If future astronauts want to stay on the Moon for a long time, they will need to be well protected from space radiation and the huge changes in temperature that happen there. Also, we want something that is strong enough to survive a small asteroid strike, which happens a lot when there is no atmosphere to protect it. It would be much better if this was found naturally instead of having to build or dig our own.

In a statement, Professor Lorenzo Bruzzone stated that the Miniature Radio-Frequency (Mini-RF) instrument discovered a pit in Mare Tranquilitatis in 2010 as part of the ongoing Luna Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) NASA mission. After a while, we looked at these data once more using sophisticated signal processing techniques and discovered radar reflections from the pit area that are only consistent with an underground cave conduit. This finding is the first direct proof of a lava tube that can be reached below the moon’s surface.

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There have been more than 200 observations of pits like the one Bruzzone and his colleagues looked at. It is called the Mare Tranquillitatis pit. Some or all of these look like they were made when the ceiling of a lava tube caved in. But the fact that there is a pit like this doesn’t mean there is a cave below that is big enough to be useful.

That’s why the Mare Tranquillitatis pit looked like a good place to begin. It’s about 100 meters (328 feet) across, and the walls are so steep that they might hang over. For that reason, it’s one of the few big enough for the LRO’s radar to be able to pick up on internal features.

Orbital synthetic aperture radar images taken from the side by the LRO show a bright spot on the west side of the pit. Based on simulations, it looks like a pipe that is 30 to 80 meters (98 to 262 feet) long and 45 to 148 meters wide. It might not be big enough for a city, but it would be a good place for a lunar village. It is thought that the cave’s floor is flat enough to be useful. There are more than 100 meters (328 feet) between the cave entrance and the surface, but since the moon has low gravity, that might not be a big problem.

The authors made two models of the pit and cave that were based on different assumptions about their sizes. The main difference was the height of the rock pile that formed when the pit’s ceiling collapsed, which affected how steep the floor was.

gif of entering a lava tube on the Moon

The Sea of Tranquility is like New York: it’s a great place to visit, but we wouldn’t want to live there. That’s because it doesn’t have ice, which is another important thing about living on the moon. There is probably frozen water at the poles of the moon, especially at the south pole, which is what started the race to land there.

Mare Tranquilitatis is a flat equatorial plane. Any ice that was close to the surface of this plane would have melted in the hot lunar days. Being about 7 degrees north of where Armstrong took “one small step” won’t make up for not having anything to drink.

However, the work makes it more likely that these kinds of lava tubes could exist at the poles. What’s more, it may be more important that we can find them in space with a little better detail. “People have thought about these caves for more than 50 years, but this is the first time we have proven they exist,” Bruzzone said.

The study was written up in Nature Astronomy.

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