Ultraprecise Experiment: Relativistic Effects Around Us

Using ultra-precise atomic clocks, scientists led by physicist James Chin-wen Chou have witnessed the acceleration and deceleration of time - effects described by Einstein's theory of relativity. Description of experiments published in the journal Science.

“With state-of-the-art technology, measurements are so accurate that you can observe these effects anywhere — even in your living room, ” said Clifford Will, a physicist at the University of Washington. “The experiment did not reveal any new phenomena, but the mere fact that it was carried out on an ordinary laboratory bench is already great!” Previously, relativistic effects have been investigated during space travel and airplane flights.

Time dilation occurs in two cases. First, time flows more slowly near massive objects (such as the Earth). Therefore, a person hovering in a balloon, in fact, is aging faster than the one on the ground. Also, time goes faster for someone who is at rest compared to someone who is moving (the “twin paradox” is associated with this phenomenon).

Previously, these unusual aspects of the theory of relativity could only be observed for fast-moving objects (however, the effect of time dilation near the Earth was once discovered on the scale of a multi-story building at Harvard). Now advances in laser technology and quantum informatics have made it possible to demonstrate Einstein's theories under more mundane conditions.

A couple of atomic clocks were used in the experiments, each of which was placed on a table in one of two neighboring laboratories. The basis of such watches is aluminum ion, which fluctuates between two energy levels, jumping from one to another more than a million billion times per second. The watch was interconnected by a 75-meter optical cable, which allowed researchers to compare their readings.

In one experiment, physicists raised the table 33 cm higher using a hydraulic jack and were able to record the acceleration of time by about one 90 billionth of a second in 79 years. In the second experiment, an electric field was applied to one of the clocks, which caused the aluminum atom to vibrate. As expected, a moving clock was slower than a fixed one.

“It's just amazing accuracy! Says physicist Daniel Kleppner at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. - Of course, these relativistic effects are well known to scientists. The atomic clocks used in the GPS system also tested the theory of relativity in action, which introduced inaccuracies in the operation of the system until the necessary corrections were made. ”

These experiments are important not so much from the point of view of physics of the theory of relativity, but rather for developers of high-precision instruments, Zhou notes. But they are a good reminder that relativistic effects do not cease to act in the world around us, although most people do not bother with this. “But interesting, ” says Zhou, “those who often fly by planes become younger [because they travel so fast] or get older faster [because they spend a lot of time high above the Earth]? ..”

According to Science News


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