A team of physicists from the United States and Russia announced that it has developed a means for computing, with unprecedented accuracy, a tiny, temperature-dependent source of error in atomic clocks. Although small, the correction could represent a big step towards atomic timekeepers’ longstanding goal of a clock with a precision equivalent to one second of error every 32 billion years — longer than the age of the universe.

Precision timekeeping is one of the bedrock technologies of modern science and technology. It underpins precise navigation on Earth and in deep space, synchronization of broadband data streams, precision measurements of motion, forces and fields, and tests of the constancy of the laws of nature over time.

“Using our calculations, researchers can account for a subtle effect that is one of the largest contributors to error in modern atomic timekeeping,” says lead author Marianna Safronova of the University of Delaware, the first author of the presentation. “We hope that our work will further improve upon what is already the most accurate measurement in science: the frequency of the aluminum quantum-logic clock,” adds co-author Charles Clark, a physicist at the Joint Quantum Institute, a collaboration of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Maryland.

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