back to article Quantum superclock will be accurate past end of life on Earth

US government boffins say they have built a clock so precise that it will still be accurate to within one second when life on Earth has ceased. The "quantum logic clock" will neither gain nor lose a second over the next 3.7 billion years, according to its makers at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). …


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  1. ShaggyDoggy


    "This is a milestone for atomic clocks" .......... classic !!!

  2. SuperTim


    When human life stops, so will the clock. Unless our natural successors (the Bees) RTFM and keep it going.

    Otherwise they are talking bollocks!

  3. Eddie Edwards

    Pedant's delight

    If the second is *defined* by the Caesium atomic clock, and this new clock will disagree with a Caesium atomic clock after only 100 million years, then this new clock is surely less accurate, by definition?

    So we'll have to redefine what a second *is* in order for this clock to become more accurate.

    Well if we can redefine a second to be whatever we like then I declare my watch to be the standard, and thus the most accurate clock on Earth.

  4. The Original Ash

    That's pretty precise

    It might actually be able to calculate the time it takes my mind to cloud with vitriol whenever someone mentions that Jacqui Smith is running for some position in parliament again.

    1. Thorsten


      "So we'll have to redefine what a second *is* in order for this clock to become more accurate."

      That depends on what definition of *is* you use.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: a bit tardy

        Define "you".

    2. Steven Knox

      Reading comprehension FTW

      Because the second is NOT defined by the Caesium atomic clock, but by the Caesium-133 atom. The problem with the Caesium atomic clock is that after 100 million years or so, enough of the Caesium used in it will no longer be Caesium-133, so IT's measurement will be off.

  5. Steven Jones

    "only one we'll ever need"

    "Chou's clock will quite literally be the only one we'll ever need - a veritable doomsday clock."

    Call me selfish, but one that will last out the remainder of this century will be more than enough for my purposes...

    In fact this one is more than I need

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Life has ceased?

    So, it's only accurate until December 2012 then...

    Mine's the one with the Mayan calendar in the pocket.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    doomsday clock?


  8. yakitoo

    Will want to see

    the get out clauses in the warranty agreement before I buy one.

  9. Stuart 9


    When do I get an application to sync my desktop to this quantum behemoth?

    I want the bragging rights of "Oh? still syncing to an atomic clock? Take this QUANTUM BITCHSLAP!"

  10. TeeCee Gold badge

    So, this is how it ends?

    "At the third stroke, the time will be The End Of The World precisely."

    Bugger (Bip). I'm a few (Bip) seconds slo(Beeep)...........NO CARRIER.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Yeh, but...

    ...will it fit on my wrist, or do I have to re-inforce the mantlepiece?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    re Pedants Delight

    I think I'll define a second as the time it takes the Earth to rotate 4.17^-3 degrees.

    Now's the time to check my maths guys.

    PC cos

    1. SuperTim

      which means time will slow.

      As the earth is slowing down!

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Yeh, but

      The user interface portion fits on your wrist, and has done for many years.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Really that accurate?

    Yeah, but what I've never figured out is HOW DO THEY KNOW??

  14. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Not to mention GPS

    Rubidium atomic clocks on board the satellites provide the time reference for the GPS system. obviously an upgrade to these for the next generation (or Gallileo) would tighten up the whole systems accuracy.

    However this one's likely to be pretty bulky. An experimental JPL unit uses a few mercury atoms and is IIRC 1000x more accurate than the GPS clocks while only taking up 2litres of volume (and of course standing a full space launch). Handy if you want launch a satellite constellation into relatively high (800-1000Km) low earth orbit.

    Note that atomic clocks are not normally viewed as portable. More 20 ft container sized than desktop. Making most of the vacuum system in 1 piece out of materials that can take a 450c bakeout (gas molecules desorbing off the walls contaminate the signal) seem to have been key elements.

  15. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    So if we want to know the time...

    we must now look for the policeman with an aluminium ion in his pocket?

    (Cue the 'or are you just pleased to see me' jokes)

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Cue

      What you mean something like:

      "Is that an aluminium ion in your pocket?"

      "Yes sir. The Chief Constable insists that our shirts are properly pressed and the steel ones are too heavy to carry while on the beat."

    2. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      How do they know

      I dunno, but I imagine you could build several and measure their growing disagreement with each other and calibrate those measurements against your trusty sundial (or Caesium clock if you have one).

      The problem doesn't sound *very* different from estimating the mean-time between failures for hard-drives. Come to think of it, neither are the answers. Don't hard drives claim to last billions of years these days? (On average, I mean. Obviously not in *your* PC.)

    3. Jim Morrow
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Really that accurate?

      > Yeah, but what I've never figured out is HOW DO THEY KNOW??

      For fuck's sake it's simple. They check it against the time on ceefax, just like everyone else.

      Paris icon because she likes good times.

  16. Mark Boothroyd

    Sun engulfing the Earth

    Quote: 'While the Sun should have some time to run before becoming a red giant - and so engulfing the Earth and much of the solar system'.

    If I remember correctly, the Earths orbit, like all the planets, is slowing down, therefore slowly drifting away from the Sun. By the time our Sun becomes a red giant, we'd be far enough away not to be engulfed by the Sun. (Although the planet would still be dead by then anyway, so still not exactly good news!).

    Plus our Sun won't turn into a Red Giant for about another 5.4 billion years or so, so the clock could actually be out by over a second by then ;-)

  17. Colin Morris

    Human's will be gone long before 3.7 billion years

    More than 99% of all species of animal ever to have lived on earth is now extinct. Human's are the only species of animal capable of stopping themselves from going extinct and yet are the only animal on the planet wilfully hastening their own demise. It is extremely unlikely that by the time the sun starts the process or achieving red giant status any humans will be around to care.

    Most likely is that humans will be wiped out or continue wiping themselves out. Causing the earth to repair it's natural resources for a few million of years paving the way for new species of animal any of which may or may not become equally or more intelligent than the humans who lived in the ancient past to rule the earth. Rinse and repeat the cycle for a few billion years until the great red fireball in the sky finally burns the planet to a cinder.

    ..probably something like that anyway?

  18. Anonymous Coward

    I asked Mr. Heisenberg about whether this device would work,

    and he said nobody could be certain.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Human's [sic] will be gone

      Depends what you're calling human. My guess is that some of whatever is around then will claim to be human. Google for meme, not gene.

  19. David Barrett

    What time is it?

    Chicco time!

    At least once that should be the output...

  20. P. Pod

    Must contain letters or digits.

    "This is the most accurate clock in the world."

    "Oh sod it!"

    "Someone's pulled the bloody plug out!"

  21. Steve X
    Thumb Up

    single aluminium atom

    Quantum physics being the cranky thing that it is, what if that vital atom decides to spontaneously flip into another universe, or otherwise disappear up its own a*se? I hope they have a spare, although then, as Confucious was wont to remark:

    "Man with one clock know exactly what time it is. Man with two clocks never quite sure".

  22. Jonathan Richards 1

    A single aluminium atom

    Hmm. What's the half life of Al, then? Must be finite, I should think. Or what about a passing cosmic particle that knocks it into another isotope, or another element?

    Making guarantees of longevity like that is just meant to grab headlines. Oh, look. It did.

    1. Steven Knox

      Half Life

      All it needs to be is more than the half life of Caesium-133.

  23. Ugotta B. Kiddingme

    but, what if...

    "It uses a single aluminium atom to keep time"

    what if they lose said single aluminium atom?

    "Darn! I had it here a moment ago. Harvey! Break out the spare aluminium atom!"

  24. Steen Hive

    Good machine

    For accurately measuring Vista boot times, then.

  25. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    So the clock would be....

    billions or trillions of times more accurate if you replaced the single aluminum atom with an old beer can??

    Paris--because there's always time for her....

  26. Steve in Hungary

    Chinese Proverb

    Man who have wristwatch know what time is.

    Man who have two wristwatches no feckin idea what time is.

  27. This post has been deleted by its author

  28. Brennan Young

    Clocks and Timepieces

    OK, if the pedants are having a go at the definition of "second", I'd like to point out that a 'clock' is a chronograph which has bells on.

    If there are no bells (or whistles, or other alarm or striking mechanism) it is merely a 'timepiece'. No indication of any bells on this new-fangled quantum chronograph.

    (My father is a horologist).

  29. Alan Newbury

    re: Chinese Proverb

    And man who has case of beer doesn't give a damn....

  30. David Sidebotham
    Jobs Halo


    Of course this accurate clock is nonsense it is just a bragging rights. In truth the earth clock is not accurate, it is slowed by tidal forces. 700m years ago the day was only 17hours long (or correctly the hour was 17/24 of what it is now). In the future the earth will become tide locked first with the moon then eventually with the sun. Just imagine an 8760hour year. There will be no living with that. So what is the point of an accurate clock ?

    All this is supposed to happen a long time in the future. But is it? If we take energy out of the earth by using tidal generation then it will be sooner and it is not reversible. We have no idea of the impact of further slowing of rotation. I think it will make global warming seem like a walk in the park.

    Scared? You should be and it is coming to an ocean or sea near you.

  31. Dr Patrick J R Harkin

    I really, really wish...

    ...that the team was late for the press conference when they announced this!

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