Pair of aluminum atomic clocks reveal Einstein's relativity at a personal scale

Sep 23, 2010
NIST physicists compared a pair of the world's best atomic clocks to demonstrate that you age faster when you stand just a couple of steps higher on a staircase. Credit: Loel Barr for NIST

Scientists have known for decades that time passes faster at higher elevations—a curious aspect of Einstein's theories of relativity that previously has been measured by comparing clocks on the earth's surface and a high-flying rocket.

Now, physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have measured this effect at a more down-to-earth scale of 33 centimeters, or about 1 foot, demonstrating, for instance, that you age faster when you stand a couple of steps higher on a staircase.

Described in the Sept. 24 issue of Science,* the difference is much too small for humans to perceive directly—adding up to approximately 90 billionths of a second over a 79-year lifetime—but may provide practical applications in geophysics and other fields.

Similarly, the NIST researchers observed another aspect of relativity—that time passes more slowly when you move faster—at speeds comparable to a car travelling about 20 miles per hour, a more comprehensible scale than previous measurements made using jet aircraft.

NIST scientists performed the new "" experiments by comparing operations of a pair of the world's best experimental atomic clocks. The nearly identical clocks are each based on the "ticking" of a single aluminum ion (electrically charged atom) as it vibrates between two energy levels over a million billion times per second. One clock keeps time to within 1 second in about 3.7 billion years (see phys.org/news184517462.html) and the other is close behind in performance. The two clocks are located in different laboratories at NIST and connected by a 75-meter-long .

NIST's aluminum clocks—also called " clocks" because they borrow logical decision-making techniques from experimental quantum computing—are precise and stable enough to reveal slight differences that could not be seen until now. The clocks operate by shining on the ions at , which are higher than the microwave frequencies used in today's standard atomic clocks based on the cesium atom.

Optical clocks could someday lead to time standards 100 times more accurate than today's standard clocks.

The aluminum clocks can detect small relativity-based effects because of their extreme precision and high "Q factor"—a quantity that reflects how reliably the ion absorbs and retains optical energy in changing from one energy level to another—says NIST postdoctoral researcher James Chin-Wen Chou, first author of the paper.

"We have observed the highest Q factor in atomic physics," Chou says. "You can think about it as how long a tuning fork would vibrate before it loses the energy stored in the resonating structure. We have the ion oscillating in sync with the laser frequency for about 400 thousand billion cycles."


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The NIST experiments focused on two scenarios predicted by Einstein's theories of relativity. First, when two clocks are subjected to unequal gravitational forces due to their different elevations above the surface of the Earth, the higher clock—experiencing a smaller gravitational force—runs faster. Second, when an observer is moving, a stationary clock's tick appears to last longer, so the clock appears to run slow. Scientists refer to this as the "twin paradox," in which a twin sibling who travels on a fast-moving rocket ship would return home younger than the other twin. The crucial factor is the acceleration (speeding up and slowing down) of the travelling twin in making the round-trip journey.

NIST scientists observed these effects by making specific changes in one of the two aluminum clocks and measuring the resulting differences in the two ions' relative ticking rates, or frequencies.

In one set of experiments, scientists raised one of the clocks by jacking up the laser table to a height one-third of a meter (about a foot) above the second clock. Sure enough, the higher clock ran at a slightly faster rate than the lower clock, exactly as predicted.

The second set of experiments examined the effects of altering the physical motion of the ion in one clock. (The ions are almost completely motionless during normal clock operations.) NIST scientists tweaked the one ion so that it gyrated back and forth at speeds equivalent to several meters per second. That clock ticked at a slightly slower rate than the second clock, as predicted by relativity. The moving ion acts like the traveling twin in the twin paradox.

Such comparisons of super-precise clocks eventually may be useful in geodesy, the science of measuring the Earth and its gravitational field, with applications in geophysics and hydrology, and possibly in space-based tests of fundamental physics theories, suggests physicist Till Rosenband, leader of NIST's aluminum ion clock team.

NIST scientists hope to improve the precision of the aluminum clocks even further, as much as 10-fold, through changes in ion trap geometry and better control of ion motion and environmental interference. The aim is to measure differences in timekeeping well enough to measure heights to an accuracy of 1 centimeter, a performance level suitable for making geodetic measurements. The paper suggests that optical clocks could be linked to form a network of "inland tidal gauges" to measure the distance from the earth's surface to the geoid (the surface of the earth's gravity field that matches the global mean sea level). Such a network could be updated far more frequently than current techniques.

Explore further: A new multi-bit 'spin' for MRAM storage

More information: *C.W. Chou, D.B. Hume, T. Rosenband and D.J. Wineland. Optical Clocks and Relativity. Science. Sept. 24, 2010.

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rah
1.2 / 5 (5) Sep 23, 2010
If I understand this correctly, aren't they then directly measuring the effect of gravity on an atomic level? I thought that this had not been done before precisely because the affects of gravity are so small at that level. This may open the door for more tests of the effect of gravity at the quantum level. 没有?
gwargh
4.3 / 5 (4) Sep 23, 2010
I think the difference is simply in the speed of movement. The clock that is higher ends up moving faster due to the earth's rotation, no?
Noumenon
4.6 / 5 (56) Sep 23, 2010
If I understand this correctly, aren't they then directly measuring the effect of gravity on an atomic level? I thought that this had not been done before precisely because the affects of gravity are so small at that level. This may open the door for more tests of the effect of gravity at the quantum level. 没有?


No, they are comparing two clock rates that are separated by 33 cm. They are measuring the effect of a very large mass on space-time, not a quantum interaction of a "graviton" particle.
mertzj
3 / 5 (2) Sep 23, 2010
The ions couldnt slow down because of the greater force of gravity? Causing the clock to be inaccurate?
Noumenon
4.6 / 5 (54) Sep 23, 2010
The ions couldnt slow down because of the greater force of gravity? Causing the clock to be inaccurate?


The gravitational force is 10^36 times weaker than the electromagnetic force, so no.

@ gwargh, time dilation is not invariant and so depends on the relative velocities of the two events, which in this case is zero.
El_Nose
1 / 5 (2) Sep 23, 2010
define greater force of gravity?? -- gravity while inconsistant across the earth is 'I believe' nearly exactly the same within a foot.
sstritt
2.6 / 5 (5) Sep 23, 2010
I think the difference is simply in the speed of movement. The clock that is higher ends up moving faster due to the earth's rotation, no?

While it is true, this effect (special relativity)is smaller and in addition to the general relativistic effect of the higher clock being in a weaker gravitational field (less space-time curvature)
Question
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 23, 2010
I wonder what the two clocks would tell us if they compared one on the surface with the other a mile or so below the surface? Which would run faster?
sstritt
1 / 5 (3) Sep 23, 2010
@noumenon is correct- my bad. Only general relativistic effect is in play
MaxwellsDemon
5 / 5 (4) Sep 23, 2010
I wonder what the two clocks would tell us if they compared one on the surface with the other a mile or so below the surface? Which would run faster?

Time dilation increases closer to the center of mass (time dilation is proportional to the gravitational binding energy, which increases toward the center of a mass). So if the Earth were of uniform density, time dilation would be (sqrt of 1.5) times greater at the center than the time dilation at the surface. But since the density increases toward the center, the time dilation at the center would be slightly larger than that.
MaxwellsDemon
4.8 / 5 (4) Sep 23, 2010
For those of you who find "benchtop tests of GR" interesting, you might also enjoy this video that an amateur experimentalist made last year, which demonstrates a tabletop laser interferometer apparatus that reveals the gravitational redshift and blueshift (unfortunately the lad thought he'd discovered new physics...oops...but his results are impressive nonetheless): http://www.youtub...embedded
sstritt
1 / 5 (3) Sep 23, 2010
I wonder what the two clocks would tell us if they compared one on the surface with the other a mile or so below the surface? Which would run faster?

Time dilation increases closer to the center of mass (time dilation is proportional to the gravitational binding energy, which increases toward the center of a mass). So if the Earth were of uniform density, time dilation would be (sqrt of 1.5) times greater at the center than the time dilation at the surface. But since the density increases toward the center, the time dilation at the center would be slightly larger than that.

How does this jive with the fact that in Newtonian gravitation, the fractional mass of the earth above any mass located within the earth exerts no net gravitational force?
MaxwellsDemon
5 / 5 (7) Sep 23, 2010
Time dilation doesn't depend on the net vector force, it depends on the magnitude of the field (or the degree of spacetime curvature, as you prefer).

Think of it this way: if I were to place an Earth-like planet directly above your head, you'd be weightless at the center of gravity between the two planets. But your time dilation wouldn't magically disappear, it would actually increase (relative to a distant observer), because you'd be immersed in an even more intense gravitational field.

The degree of time dilation can be easily calculated by taking the Lorentz transform of the escape velocity for any point in the gravitational field. It takes a greater velocity to escape from the center of a mass than it does to escape from the surface, so time dilation is always maximum at that point.
yOnsa
not rated yet Sep 23, 2010
i wonder how much faster time would be on one of those clocks in deep space as far away from any sources of gravity as possible. i'm having a hard time understanding how light can still be at the constant speed as it travels through space-time. time speeds up and slows down. makes me think of that hubble deep field pic. all those galaxy's. it reminds me of fireworks just spinning around and burning out real fast
Husky
not rated yet Sep 23, 2010
so. the robotic explorers/orbiters on/round mars, due to its smaller gravity would be experiencing time-dilation relative to earth as well? Wich maybe could be measured by tweaking the software to upload some digital sync/phase signature in their transmissions, due to the long travel of signal back and forth, maybe tiny differences would manifest themselves as measurable phase mismatches and thus perhaps allows for gravity mapping of mars/other planets
sstritt
3 / 5 (4) Sep 23, 2010
Time dilation doesn't depend on the net vector force, it depends on the magnitude of the field (or the degree of spacetime curvature, as you prefer).

Think of it this way: if I were to place an Earth-like planet directly above your head, you'd be weightless at the center of gravity between the two planets. But your time dilation wouldn't magically disappear, it would actually increase (relative to a distant observer), because you'd be immersed in an even more intense gravitational field.

The degree of time dilation can be easily calculated by taking the Lorentz transform of the escape velocity for any point in the gravitational field. It takes a greater velocity to escape from the center of a mass than it does to escape from the surface, so time dilation is always maximum at that point.

thanks. that makes sense!
braindead
5 / 5 (4) Sep 23, 2010
So.. let me get this right. My feet are older than my head?
Noumenon
Sep 23, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
braindead
3 / 5 (2) Sep 23, 2010
Noumenon - yep you passed the deliberate mistake test ;)
braindead
not rated yet Sep 23, 2010
On the other hand if I keep standing up to go and get a coffee would the acceleration of my head due to caffeine deficiency outweight the superposition of my head over my feet in th Earth's gravity field?
braindead
not rated yet Sep 23, 2010
Time dilation doesn't depend on the net vector force, it depends on the magnitude of the field (or the degree of spacetime curvature, as you prefer).

Think of it this way: if I were to place an Earth-like planet directly above your head, you'd be weightless at the center of gravity between the two planets. But your time dilation wouldn't magically disappear, it would actually increase (relative to a distant observer), because you'd be immersed in an even more intense gravitational field.

The degree of time dilation can be easily calculated by taking the Lorentz transform of the escape velocity for any point in the gravitational field. It takes a greater velocity to escape from the center of a mass than it does to escape from the surface, so time dilation is always maximum at that point.


So how would this affect time at satellites parked in Lagrangian points?
Ant
not rated yet Sep 23, 2010
Surely this height difference effect explains why satelites have to compensate for the same effect and nothing to do with relativity at all?
Ant
3.7 / 5 (6) Sep 23, 2010
its got to be good news for those miners trapped underground, they will be younger.
MaxwellsDemon
5 / 5 (5) Sep 23, 2010
Lagrange points are positions of balanced forces and potentials (centripetal forces balancing gravitational potentials) so they're: A.) within a region of gravitational potentials and therefore subject to GR time dilation, and B.) in motion and therefore subject to SR time dilation. This is true of you and me as well, btw - we're in a gravity well and also in motion, so we're time dilated by both GR and SR effects (which is why the GPS satellite network has to account for both phenomena in real time, and it does so with extreme precision).

In the weak field limit, which applies to Earth gravity and v much less than c, this equation is sufficient to combine the two effects:

dtE/dtc = 1 - U/c^2 - v^2/2c^2

Where U = the sum of local gravitational potentials GMi/ri
Husky
not rated yet Sep 24, 2010
I wonder, do extremely strong magnetic fields also affect Time dilation?
visual
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 24, 2010
Time dilation doesn't depend on the net vector force, it depends on the magnitude of the field (or the degree of spacetime curvature, as you prefer).
...

thanks. that makes sense!

Actually, it does not. The magnitude of the field is the same thing as the net force, by definition. The fields of the planets on the two sides of you cancel out. Same thing is valid in terms of curvature - as curvature has direction, the two curvatures caused by the masses on your two sides cancel out, resulting in flat space at your point.
Question
1 / 5 (4) Sep 24, 2010
Time dilation doesn't depend on the net vector force, it depends on the magnitude of the field (or the degree of spacetime curvature, as you prefer).
...

thanks. that makes sense!

Actually, it does not. The magnitude of the field is the same thing as the net force, by definition. The fields of the planets on the two sides of you cancel out. Same thing is valid in terms of curvature - as curvature has direction, the two curvatures caused by the masses on your two sides cancel out, resulting in flat space at your point.

So what you are telling me is that at the center of the earth where the vector force is zero there is no gravity field from the surrounding mass of the earth?
MaxwellsDemon
5 / 5 (3) Sep 24, 2010
Time dilation doesn't depend on the net vector force, it depends on the magnitude of the field (or the degree of spacetime curvature, as you prefer).
...

thanks. that makes sense!

Actually, it does not. The magnitude of the field is the same thing as the net force, by definition.


That’s false. The gradient flattens out at the center of mass, but the magnitude of the field is at maximum value there. It’s like the top of a hill – the center is flat but it’s displaced upward.

“Gravitational time dilation is the effect of time passing at different rates in regions of different gravitational potential; the lower the gravitational potential (closer to the center of a massive object), the more slowly time passes.”
http://en.wikiped...dilation

For the interior Schwarzschild solution and explanations you can follow up here:
http://www.physic...t2147975
Brett_Morgan
not rated yet Sep 24, 2010
I must be really confused. Why would it matter where something is physically, in regards to time passing? Won't time pass at the same rate regardless of location. Time is somehow dependant on the rotation of the earth? Doesn't time pass in space too? WTF?
Ant
not rated yet Sep 24, 2010
Maxwelldemon
The reality is there are allowances that have to be made due to the satelite being in orbit, for which very acurate calculations have been made. What these are called is irelavent, but because you and others believe in time dilation (and even an entity "time") you have chosen to apply these links to the adjustments.

To dilate "time" there needs to be an entity "time", there isnt.

Remember occams razor
Noumenon
4.5 / 5 (53) Sep 24, 2010
I must be really confused. Why would it matter where something is physically, in regards to time passing? Won't time pass at the same rate regardless of location. Time is somehow dependant on the rotation of the earth? Doesn't time pass in space too? WTF?
According to general relativity there is no gravitational force, instead space and time are considered as one 'thing' and mass and/or any type of energy causes this space-time to distort, so that any physical process closer to a mass will occur slower as compared to another physical process relatively further away from the mass. In special relativity, high velocities, a good fraction of the speed of light, will also cause all physical processes to slow, as measured by a observer with a different relative velocity. It's just the way it is. Naturally his applies to physical measures of time. The sense of time is of a epistemological nature and is another matter.
Question
1 / 5 (3) Sep 24, 2010

The reality is there are allowances that have to be made due to the satelite being in orbit, for which very acurate calculations have been made. What these are called is irelavent, but because you and others believe in time dilation (and even an entity "time") you have chosen to apply these links to the adjustments.

To dilate "time" there needs to be an entity "time", there isnt.

Remember occams razor

What makes you so sure there isn't an entity of time? There could very well be a basic unit of time. It could be a discreet unit of the distant light travels in one second.
What if the speed of light is the ultimated speed at which anything can happen? This may explain why nothing can happen at the speed of light.
MaxwellsDemon
5 / 5 (3) Sep 24, 2010
Actually everything happens at the speed of light, according to relativity theory.

With the unified matrix of spacetime, c isn’t simply the speed of light in a vacuum anymore; it’s also the conversion factor of time and space units. One second of time is equivalent to 3x10^8 meters of spatial separation.

So as you sit there experiencing one second of time, you’re moving through spacetime at the speed of light. One second per second is equivalent to 3x10^8 meters per second. Neat, huh?

In fact, as you acquire speed in any direction and of any magnitude, you’re still moving at the speed of light, because as your spacelike motion increases, your timelike motion decrease in perfect proportion so that your total spacetime velocity equals c. This concept is called “four-velocity” (because it includes the time dimension with the three spatial dimensions): http://en.wikiped...velocity
braindead
not rated yet Sep 24, 2010
Suppose the two ions in clocks were entangled particles. As the passage of time in each ion is different would observing the property of the younger ion actually result in the property of the ion aging more quickly be known at some time in its own future. So what happens if the older ion is observed first? Suppose both ions were observed at the same instant by their own clocks could we know the property of the other ion before it was observed at the second ion?

Spooky action at distance and time.

gwrede
1 / 5 (3) Sep 24, 2010
Oh, holy ghost. I always suspected it, but this thread really proves it. There's no point in publishing scientific content on the net, because people really can't understand what's written here.

Aaarrghhhhhh.....
Question
1 / 5 (2) Sep 24, 2010
Quote: "Actually everything happens at the speed of light, according to relativity theory."

That is just what I stated previously, and that leaves NO time for anything else to happen. That explains why nothing else happens when something is moving at the speed of light.
No time for chemical reactions, aging etc., etc..


yOnsa
4.2 / 5 (6) Sep 24, 2010
gwrede,
Sometimes people need things explained in other ways to reach that eureka moment. People not understanding initially what is written here is precisely why it should be on the net. The people here want to learn and are interested in these ideas. You must have felt this way at some point before you became all knowing and condescending.

This is an interesting topic and I am happy to see all of these comments. I come to this website for the comments as much as the articles themselves.
braindead
not rated yet Sep 24, 2010
Suppose the ions in each clock were entangled, if we checked the upper ion first what would the time at each clock be? If one affects the other instantaneously ie, faster than the speed of light, then maybe we could get an answer back from the lower clock through a second entangled pair at each clock before we checked the ion at upper clock? I.e. we would get an answer before we asked the question. Or should it be we check the lower ion first? - any thoughts on this? - my brain hurts ;)
mg1
not rated yet Sep 25, 2010
Particles are of different ages so you can see older and younger particles mingle. I try not to think of matter as planets and suns but as particles that clump for a while and zip around space affecting and being affected by others when not.

Time as such started at 0 when the big bang happened, after that every particle has its own age so relating time between particles is pointless, no two are the same. The only true time would still exist at the origin(big bang) and would in some metric sense given no gravity or other effect be happily increasing in a linear fashion. If we were able to know the current time at the origin and our current time, we could deduce the rough offset of the universe based on distance from the centre.

Time is useful only to us to measure something and is quite relative. Meaning it is not absolutely right but right enough for us to understand and work with.

I believe entangled pairs are still subject to data travelling at c between them.
genastropsychicallst
Sep 25, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Ant
Sep 25, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Ant
3 / 5 (2) Sep 25, 2010
As I have said mant times in the past the only perception which could be called "time" is NOW we all exist in the NOW. Not a millisecond before or after. However the perception of what happens now is vastly different as people at different distances from an event will see it at different times dependant upon the distance but all would say that it happened "NOW" Even a single oerson does not see "Now" as there is always a distance travel time. The nearest to NOW that one could see is the movement of particles on the lens front of the eye which is sometimes possible. As for the speed of light this is probably the time it takes for a photon energy to pass from one cell of the spacialy matrix to the next. And is why nothing can be moved faster. if this idea of a spacially matrix is correct it explains "spooky action at a distance as a line through any matrix is never straight passing through some cells but not others and creating a pattern which changes with the slightest adjustment.
MarcoPolo2010
not rated yet Sep 25, 2010
Hi, what could this mean for humans living in the mountains? In other words: does data show that they age faster than others not living in the mountains (say 1 mile higher above sea level)?
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (5) Sep 25, 2010
It amounts to about 1 second per 400 years from an altitude equal to the summit of Everest to Sea Level, in theory.

However, since Everest is massive, the gravity actually may be slightly stronger than expected at the real summit as compared to say the same elevation above a plain or ocean.

At any rate, Everest's summit has aged by about 5 seconds less in the past 2000 years as compared to it's base...
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (7) Sep 25, 2010
Do you atheists realize that the first known mention of the relativity of time can be found in the Bible?

2 Peter 3:8 "...one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day..."
DonR
5 / 5 (1) Sep 25, 2010
Yeeeh, except when you say A is like B & B is like A, that's a case of similarity, not relativity, isn't it QC, you trolling twat.
TabulaMentis
1 / 5 (3) Sep 26, 2010
@MaxwellsDemon
For those of you who find "benchtop tests of GR" interesting, you might also enjoy this video that an amateur experimentalist made last year, which demonstrates a tabletop laser interferometer apparatus that reveals the gravitational redshift and blueshift (unfortunately the lad thought he'd discovered new physics...oops...but his results are impressive nonetheless): http://www.youtub...embedded

The interferometer in the video used vertically makes an impressive gravity detector.
MaxwellsDemon
3 / 5 (2) Sep 26, 2010
@TabulaMentis: That's *exactly* what I thought when I saw it.

But I just checked up on the details of the Pound-Rebka experiment (aka the Harvard tower experiment...and it turns out that Herr Grusenick's apparatus generated a -false positive- (probably from a subtle flexing of the components as the gravitational stress shifted under rotation). Basically he built a 'gravitational redshift/blueshift detection simulator'...only the effect it shows shouldn't be visible at that wavelength at that scale!

The gravitational redshift at that degree of separation would only be a fraction of a wavelength of a high-energy gamma photon...there's just -no way- any shift would be visible to the naked eye at a green photon wavelength over that distance:

http://en.wikiped...periment

http://hyperphysi...tim.html

Next time I'll check the math *before* posting, mea culpa! Sorry for the misdirection!
daywalk3r
3.4 / 5 (17) Sep 26, 2010
^^
Yep MD. Watched the video and my eyes were rolling @ how many wavelengths it was shifting, which gave me some instant chuckle :)

Too bad that the allu rails are bending because of asymetric distribution of weight on the board, aswell as expanding/contracting due to temparature shifts in the room (the "time of day" differences mentioned by the author).

But every effort pays off - actually almost all of the YouTube commenters have no objections whatsoever and jump the train without questions ;-D

Was just about to post a reply, but then refreshed and saw your last comment, which in bulk mentions most of the other points I had on mind, so kudos to you :)
getgoa
1 / 5 (6) Sep 26, 2010
Einstein broke his promise and people today are trying to convince me the dropping of atomic bombss is relative to your two experiments? Einstein was in the anti-christ light--March and April--more on this at:
http://blogs.mysp...37454303

Isaac Newton was not correct, Einstein is not correct they are relatively correct meaning they will never be able to understand the correct answer. This is usually called in the bible snakes craft--the winding routes of humans.

Here is a male defying centre of gravity:

http://www.youtub...bnMeOtMs
BrianFraser
3 / 5 (2) Sep 26, 2010
Here is an article that presents evidence that time is three dimensional:

http://fqxi.org/d...Time.pdf

http://fqxi.org/c...opic/294 (discussion)

Another article shows what relationship time has to space:
http://scriptural...maFactor

Warrensn
not rated yet Sep 27, 2010
Einstein is not correct? Who are you getoa? I've never heard of you. Einstein admitted that his theories were not perfect. Still, who are you?
MaxwellsDemon
5 / 5 (1) Sep 29, 2010
@Quantum_Conundrum:
It amounts to about 1 second per 400 years from an altitude equal to the summit of Everest to Sea Level, in theory.

Actually, if you lived at the top of Mt. Everest you'd age one billionth of a second more each year compared to someone at sea level.
Source: http://www.cfa.ha...tare.htm
At any rate, Everest's summit has aged by about 5 seconds less in the past 2000 years as compared to it's base...

This is backwards and incorrect: time moves faster further away from the center of mass, slower closer to the center of mass. Over the last 2000 years the top of Mt. Everest has aged 2 millionths of a second more than a position at sea level.