Scientists Make Breakthrough in Warping Time at Smallest Scale Ever
Scientists were able to measure time dilation at a distance of just a millimeter, about the width of a pencil tip.
by Becky Ferreira
February 16, 2022
Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity is packed with weird insights about our reality, but perhaps the most mind-boggling is the fact that strong gravitational fields or incredibly high speeds can warp the passage of time, an effect known as time dilation. For instance, clocks located onboard spacecraft might tick slightly faster or slower than those on Earth, depending on the distortive effects of their velocities and our planet’s gravity on time.
Now, in a major breakthrough, scientists at JILA, a joint operation between the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Colorado Boulder, have measured time dilation at the smallest scale ever using the most accurate clocks in the world. The team showed that clocks located just a millimeter apart—about the width of a pencil tip—showed slightly different times due to the influence of Earth’s gravity.
The new experiment paves the way toward clocks with 50 times the precision of those available today, which could be used for a host of practical applications, while also shedding light on fundamental mysteries about our universe, including the long-sought “union of general relativity and quantum mechanics,” according to a study published on Wednesday in Nature.
“When you go to such a small scale, what does that mean? It means that the clock precision is better,” said Jun Ye, a JILA physicist who co-authored the study, in a call. “In some sense, what we are trying to say is that time and space are interconnected. As Einstein’s relativity told us, time is space, space is time, and time is relative. There’s no absolute concept of time.”