Like other atomic clocks, the new instrument uses the natural vibration of atoms to measure the passage of time. According to Jam Thomsen, a nuclear physicist at the University of Copenhagen who has collaborated in its development, atoms work like pendulums. “Using a very low temperature laser light we can make an electron swing back and forth in a certain way between orbits, and that is what gives rise to the pendulum in the atomic clock,” he adds.
The new technique makes this watch much more accurate in measuring time than the cesium clocks used up to now as a standard for Coordinated Universal Time. Increasing the precision of time measurement can serve to improve the synchronization of navigation, positioning systems, telecommunications networks, and communications between Earth and spacecraft.