What Is an Atomic Clock?

What Is an Atomic Clock?

Updated: November 2, 2020

A clock is one of the most important devices in any building. We cannot overemphasize the importance a clock plays in the home, office, or school. It helps us make and keep appointments, telling us when to sleep, wake up, or perform other activities. A clock is a device used for measuring time. There are mechanical clocks, digital clocks, and atomic clocks.

An atomic clock, also known as a radio-controlled clock, is an atomic timekeeping device. It uses frequency in the microwave or ultraviolet region of the electromagnetic spectrum of atoms as a frequency standard for its timekeeping element.

What Is Atomic Timekeeping?

Are you looking for an extremely accurate clock with accuracy in nanoseconds? Get an atomic clock. It uses the resonance frequencies of the atoms of these elements to keep time. Moreover, an atomic clock makes use of elements like Cesium, Rubidium, and Hydrogen to measure time accurately.

When Was the Atomic Clock Invented?

The atomic clock has a long history. In 1879, Lord Kelvin suggested the use of atomic transitions to measure time. In 1945, Isidor Rabi, an American physicist, suggested that you could use atomic beam magnetic resonance as the basis of a clock.

In 1949, the United States National Bureau of Standards (formerly NBS, now NIST) built the first atomic clock. This clock uses an ammonia absorption line device to measure time. This device was less accurate than the existing quartz clock.

Louis Essen and Jack Parry, both English men, built an accurate atomic clock in 1955. Their atomic clock was Cesium standard, based on a specific transition of Cesium-133 atom.

Where Is the World's Most Accurate Clock?

Do you wonder where the most accurate clock on earth is? It is in the United States of America. This clock is the standard of accuracy. Built by the National Institute of Standard and Technology and the University of Colorado, Boulder, no time is lost to this device.

How Accurate Is the Atomic Clock?

An atomic clock has an error of 1 second in 100 million years. This shows you a proper perspective on the accuracy of the watch. This means that in a million years, there would be only a 1-second error. How is that for accuracy?

How Does an Atomic Clock Work?

An atomic clock has both electronic and nuclear components. The frequency of the microwave radiation emitted by the atomic element regulates the electronic components.

So how does an atomic clockwork? An atomic clock contains an antenna and radio receiver that picks up the frequency broadcast by WWVB, NIST's radio transmitter. When the clock receives this frequency, it adjusts itself automatically, making corrections to provide accurate time.

Maintaining this specific frequency will induce energy change of the Cesium, Rubidium, or Hydrogen atoms. An atomic clock works by observing these energy changes in a feedback loop and simplifying the radiation frequency.

How to Set an Atomic Clock?

Atomic clocks and radio clocks set themselves automatically when they pick up the signals broadcast by WWVB. But in a situation where your clock is unable to pick up the signs, you can set the atomic clock by following the steps below.

How to set an atomic clock manually?

  • Insert the battery,
  • Input your time zone,
  • Depending on the clock, tap or hold the button close to the battery until you reach the correct time,
  • The clock would synchronize with the atomic clock at NIST at midnight.

How to Reset an Atomic Clock?

There are two ways to reset an atomic clock. The first way is using the reset button to auto-reset the clock. Usually, atomic clocks come with a reset button on the back. This button is small and sometimes difficult to hold down using a finger. It would be best if you used a paperclip to hold down the reset button to ensure your atomic clock resets properly.

Another way to reset an atomic clock is to disconnect it from the power source. You can do this by either removing the batteries or disconnecting the clock from electricity. After disconnection, count 30 seconds and restart the clock.

What Is an Atomic Alarm Clock?

An atomic alarm clock is a radio-controlled alarm clock system. This clock works in sync with the correct time broadcast by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). In this clock, the radio system picks up the NIST frequency to provide an accurate time and a precise alarm system.

Conventional alarm clocks are very efficient in doing the job of waking us up from deep slumber or reminding us of an appointment. As we all know, one second can mark the difference between a meeting and an appointment and missing one.

The accuracy of the conventional clock is questionable, and this translates to its alarm system. It is because an alarm system is only as accurate as its parent clock. This means that the inaccuracy of a watch can translate to an inaccurate alarm system. What this entails is that you would be minutes late to an appointment.

How Do You Set An Alarm On an Atomic Clock?

Setting the alarm on an atomic clock is easy. The processes and steps are dependent on the company producing the atomic clock. For a digital atomic alarm clock, follow these steps:

  • Hold the alarm button until the "AL" or alarm symbol replaces the seconds, and the alarm hour flashes.
  • Press the directional buttons to adjust the alarm hour, either up or down.

Why Is My Atomic Clock Wrong?

Alarm clocks are hardly wrong, but if you find out your time is not accurate, here are some factors you can hold responsible.

  • Low batteries: When the atomic clock battery is low, it results in a weak reception of the NIST's frequency. When your clock is not receiving a good signal, the clock would be wrong.

  • Incorrect time zone: When the time zone is incorrect, the time displayed on the clock is wrong. This error is evident when the time displayed is ahead or behind the conventional clock in hours. To solve this challenge, reset the clock and set the time zone correctly.

  • Radio interference: If you stay in an area with crisscrossing radio frequencies, these frequencies can be hindering your clock from receiving signals. You should change the position or location of the clock.