NIST atomic clock comparison confirms key assumptions of 'Einstein's elevator'

June 4, 2018, National Institute of Standards and Technology
Einstein's elevator: As the Earth falls like an elevator in the sun's gravity, atomic clocks based on hydrogen and cesium maintain the same synchronicity in their ticking properties. NIST physicists just measured this phenomenon better than ever before. Credit: K. Rechin/NIST

By comparing different types of remote atomic clocks, physicists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have performed the most accurate test ever of a key principle underlying Albert Einstein's famous theory of general relativity, which describes how gravity relates to space and time.

The NIST result, made possible by continual improvements in the world's most accurate atomic clocks, yields a record-low, exceedingly small value for a quantity that Einstein predicted to be zero.

As described in a Nature Physics paper posted online June 4, NIST researchers used the solar system as a laboratory for testing Einstein's thought experiment involving Earth as a freefalling elevator. Einstein theorized that all objects located in such an elevator would accelerate at the same rate, as if they were in a uniform gravitational field—or no gravity at all. Moreover,he predicted, these objects' properties relative to each other would remain constant during the elevator's free-fall.

In their experiment, the NIST team regarded Earth as an elevator falling through the Sun's gravitational field. They compared recorded data on the "ticks" of two types of atomic clocks located around the world to show they remained in sync over 14 years, even as the gravitational pull on the elevator varied during the Earth's slightly off-kilter orbit around the sun.Researchers compared data from 1999 to 2014for a total of 12 clocks—four hydrogen masers(microwave lasers) in the NIST scale with eight of the most accurate cesium fountain operated by metrology laboratories in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy.

The experiment was designed to test a prediction of , the principle of local position invariance (LPI), which holds that in a falling elevator, measures of nongravitational effects are independent of time and place. One such measurement compares the frequencies of electromagnetic radiation from atomic clocks at different locations. The researchers constrained the violation of LPIto a value of 0.00000022 plus or minus 0.00000025—the most miniscule number yet, consistent with general relativity's predicted result of zero, and corresponding to no violation. This means the ratio of hydrogen to cesium frequencies remained the same as the clocks moved together in the falling elevator.

This result has five times less uncertainty than NIST's best previous measurement of the LPI violation,translating to five times greater sensitivity. That earlier 2007 result, from a 7-year comparison of cesium and hydrogen atomic clocks, was 20 times more sensitive than the previous tests.

The latest measurement advance is due to improvements in several areas, namely more accurate cesium fountain atomic clocks, better time transfer processes (which enable devices at different locations to compare their time signals), and the latest data for computing the position and velocity of Earth in space, NIST's Bijunath Patla said.

"But the main reason we did this work was to highlight how atomic clocks are used to test fundamental physics; in particular, the foundations of general relativity," Patla said. "This is the claim made most often when clockmakers strive for better stability and accuracy. We tie together tests of general relativity with atomic clocks, note the limitations of the current generation of clocks, and present a future outlook for how next-generation clocks will become very relevant."

Further limits on LPI are unlikely to be obtained using hydrogen and cesium clocks, the researchers say, but experimental next-generation clocks based on optical frequencies, which are much higher than the frequencies of hydrogen and cesium clocks, could offer much more sensitive results. NIST already operates a variety of these clocks based on atoms such as ytterbium and strontium.

Because so many scientific theories and calculations are intertwined, NIST researchers used their new value for the LPI violation to calculate variations in several fundamental "constants" of nature, physical quantities thought to be universal and widely used in physics. Their results for the light quark mass were the best ever, while results for the fine structure constant agreed with previously reported values for any pair of atoms.

Explore further: NIST's next-generation atomic clocks may support official timekeeping

More information: N. Ashby, T.E. Parker and B.R. Patla. 2018. A null test of general relativity based on a long-term comparison of atomic transition frequencies. Nature Physics. June 4. Advance Online Publication, DOI: 10.1038/s41567-018-0156-2 , https://www.nature.com/articles/s41567-018-0156-2

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16 comments

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JamesG
not rated yet Jun 04, 2018
Geez. Proofread! Half the sentences have run on words.
tgmeloche
1 / 5 (1) Jun 04, 2018
What is gravitational time dilation?

Go to Quora link : https://www.quora...ialation

Hyperfuzzy
1 / 5 (5) Jun 04, 2018
ugh, the atomic probably has a non-zero dependence upon the local field. Dr. E is an idiot genius; but, alas is nonsense. You are pulled by the earth and pushed by the elevator. You only show results of local and small acceleration. Holistically, scale it, try more g's more space, look at the star's, the contact force's, same, i don't see what'cha saying. gravitational is spherical, do that in and elevator! idiot
jonesdave
5 / 5 (4) Jun 04, 2018
ugh, the atomic probably has a non-zero dependence upon the local field. Dr. E is an idiot genius; but, alas is nonsense. You are pulled by the earth and pushed by the elevator. You only show results of local and small acceleration. Holistically, scale it, try more g's more space, look at the star's, the contact force's, same, i don't see what'cha saying. gravitational is spherical, do that in and elevator! idiot


Try that in English. Idiot.
Hyperfuzzy
1 / 5 (5) Jun 05, 2018
Over the Top reaction to nonsense! Guess how far back in time Logic has been ignored? Yeah. Yeah. First create a population lead with logic, and study logic, no, really, you ain't the first 'cause you ain't logical!

wow, somebody get's it! shouldn't that be enough?

By the way, intelligence began with a woman & ... Hypatia ....No! That's when logic died! Before you were born. Enough English, did i leave out Kings & Queens Ordained by God
Hyperfuzzy
1 / 5 (5) Jun 05, 2018
an Element is a semi-steady state of a set of spherical fields. the centers of these fields always respond to the field. the elemental stability may depend upon the field. therefore an atomic clock to measure your nonsense is unreliable.
Hyperfuzzy
1 / 5 (5) Jun 05, 2018
prove that the clock is independent of location, ambient field dynamics, ambient field direction and intensity. So each atomic clock is calibrated to these parameters. By the WTF ya trying to measure; set, absolute time change as setting c=1; measure your dynamics within this frame, yeah, yeah, it's like sampling reality at a volume of time, anywhere, ...
Hyperfuzzy
1 / 5 (5) Jun 05, 2018
time is invariant and conceptual, to allow time ... I can't stop laughing; but the ratio wave-length and period are fixed; watch the speed of the field updates. Update, i.e. existing field, conserved!

sum it all everywhere : q at r

backwards? try it, move everything back!
jonesdave
5 / 5 (5) Jun 05, 2018
time is invariant and conceptual, to allow time ... I can't stop laughing; but the ratio wave-length and period are fixed; watch the speed of the field updates. Update, i.e. existing field, conserved!

sum it all everywhere : q at r

backwards? try it, move everything back!


Jeez, what a loon. Eh?
Hyperfuzzy
1 / 5 (4) Jun 05, 2018
time is invariant and conceptual, to allow time ... I can't stop laughing; but the ratio wave-length and period are fixed; watch the speed of the field updates. Update, i.e. existing field, conserved!

sum it all everywhere : q at r

backwards? try it, move everything back!


Jeez, what a loon. Eh?

ya ow me dat. 'cause,i high; but, correct. if you only move through the field at a constant velocity, the ratio is the same. back 2 basics
jonesdave
5 / 5 (4) Jun 05, 2018
time is invariant and conceptual, to allow time ... I can't stop laughing; but the ratio wave-length and period are fixed; watch the speed of the field updates. Update, i.e. existing field, conserved!

sum it all everywhere : q at r

backwards? try it, move everything back!


Jeez, what a loon. Eh?

ya ow me dat. 'cause,i high; but, correct. if you only move through the field at a constant velocity, the ratio is the same. back 2 basics


Still a loon.
Hyperfuzzy
1 / 5 (4) Jun 06, 2018
time is invariant and conceptual, to allow time ... I can't stop laughing; but the ratio wave-length and period are fixed; watch the speed of the field updates. Update, i.e. existing field, conserved!

sum it all everywhere : q at r

backwards? try it, move everything back!


Jeez, what a loon. Eh?

ya ow me dat. 'cause,i high; but, correct. if you only move through the field at a constant velocity, the ratio is the same. back 2 basics


Still a loon.

yeah, i juz like everybody else, lol
ZoeBell
Jun 06, 2018
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Hyperfuzzy
1 / 5 (4) Jun 06, 2018
It wasn't test of general relativity - rather the spatial homogeneity of Earth reference frame. The https://wattsupwi...ance.png ensues: the homogeneity of changes in space doesn't warranty their nonexistence in time and vice-versa... To present such a test as a confirmation of Einstein''s relativity under the situation when the gravity constant fluctuates in range of promiles is a pure ideology, which is unfortunately quite omnipresent in popular physics media.

spatial homogeneity? argument almost sound; but, alas, invalid. don't get lost at the STD Model, no connectivity to reality, just math trying to explain nonsense while ignoring reality and simplicity
savvys84
1 / 5 (2) Jun 11, 2018
regardless of the improvement in atomic clocks, they will be prone to the same anamolies explained here
https://www.scrib...savvys84
Hyperfuzzy
not rated yet Jun 14, 2018
no different than flat Earthers; 'cept now we thank gravity is magic; corrects my data by redrawing the graph paper

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