A newly proposed clock that uses the orbit of a neutron around an atomic nucleus to keep time would be so accurate that it would only gain or lose 1/20th of a second every 14 billion years – or about the lifetime of the universe.


“This is nearly 100 times more accurate than the best atomic clocks we have now,” physicist Victor Flambaum of the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia said in a statement.


Unlike current atomic clocks, which use the orbiting electrons of atoms as the clock pendulum, the new clock would use the circling neutron of an atomic nucleus as the timekeeper.


This makes for a more accurate clock because neutrons are bound much more tightly to a nucleus than electrons to atoms. As a result, they are almost completely unaffected by external perturbations.


The researchers say their so-called nuclear clock would be accurate to 19 decimal places. While such precision might be overkill for daily time keeping, it could prove valuable in science experiments where chronological accuracy is important.


“It would allow scientists to test fundamental physical theories at unprecedented levels of precision and provide an unmatched tool for applied physics research," said Flambaum, who is a coauthor of a new study in the journal Physical Review Letters that details the single-ion clock.


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