The U.S. Department of Commerce has developed the most accurate atomic clock that will henceforth serve as the new U.S. civilian time and frequency standard.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology has built the next generation clock, which could keep time accurately within a second for 300 million years. The NIST-F2 atomic clock will run simultaneously with the F1 clock, which has been the standard since 1999, for comparison purposes.
"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," says NIST physicist Steven Jefferts, lead designer of NIST-F2.
Atomic clocks work by using a 'fountain' of cesium to determine the exact length of a second. Researchers were able to improve accuracy by eliminating small errors caused by background radiation.
NIST scientists submitted data from the NIST-F2 to the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, located in Paris. The agency collects data from atomic clocks all over the world to produce the Coordinated Universal Time, and, according to the BIPM, the NIST-F2 is the world's most accurate clock.
The institute has some major responsibilities -- it time-stamp hundreds of billions of dollars in U.S. financial transactions each working day and is used by the Internet Time Service to synchronize clocks in computers and network devices. The NIST receives 8 billion of these automated requests every year and also makes radio broadcasts which update around 50 million watches and other clocks daily.