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Atomic clock UPSC NOTE

 How atomic clock works?

  • Atomic clocks work by keeping time using atoms

  • One popular design uses atoms of an isotope of caesium, Cs-133

  • The International Committee for Weights and Measures first used it in 1967 to define the duration of one second

  • India also uses a Cs-133 atomic clock to define the second for timekeeping within its borders.

  • Cs-133 is a highly stable atom and is found naturally, which is why it is so commonly used in atomic clocks.

  • Atomic clocks exploit a fundamental property of all atoms: their ability to jump between different energy levels. 

  • Energy levels are like the steps of a ladder. An atom climbs up the ladder by absorbing energy, like electromagnetic radiation.

  • In a Cs atomic clock, the energy needed for the atom to jump to a higher energy level matches the frequency of microwave radiation

  • This frequency is related in some fully understood way to the duration of a second.

  • The accuracy of atomic clocks comes from a feedback mechanism that detects any changes in the resonance frequency and adjusts the microwave radiation to maintain resonance.

  • Thus, a caesium atomic clock loses or gains a second every 1.4 million years.

Optical atomic clock

  • Optical atomic clocks are even more accurate

  • While they have the same working principle, the resonance frequency here is in the optical range

  • Radiation in this range includes visible light (to humans) and ultraviolet and infrared radiation.

  • As part of an optical atomic clock, researchers use lasers to stimulate atomic transitions

  • The lasers’ light is highly coherent: the emitted light waves all have the same frequency and their wavelengths are related to each other in a way that doesn’t change

  • The result is light with more precise properties and great stability.

  • The most commonly used atom in optical atomic clocks is strontium (Sr): it has narrow linewidths and stable optical transitions.


  • The development of atomic clock is a necessary first-step for their use for navigation, maritime communication, and scientific research.

  • For example, they can now help monitor underwater seismic and volcanic activity with great precision. 

  • Onboard spacecraft, they can help scientists conduct experiments that test the theories of relativity and potentially reduce the cost of satellite-based navigation.



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Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam: Atomic clock UPSC NOTE
Atomic clock UPSC NOTE
Learnerz IAS | Concept oriented UPSC Classes in Malayalam
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