The Miniature Atomic Clock (MAC) from Microsemi uses a rubidium laser to output an extremely accurate clock. We're speaking at the edge of our knowledge so please bear with us but the short-term stability (Allan Deviation) is ≤8*10-12. From Wikipedia on Atomic Clocks:
For context, a femtosecond (1×10−15 s) is to a second what a second is to about 31.71 million (31.71×106) years and an attosecond (1×10−18 s) is to a second what a second is to about 31.71 billion (31.71×109) years.
That puts the SA.35m Miniature Atomic Clock in the picosecond category of eight seconds per 31,689 years. Said differently, the MAC loses a second every 4,000 years or so.
How does it work? From Microsemi:
The MAC is a passive atomic clock, incorporating the interrogation technique of Coherent Population Trapping (CPT) and operating upon the D1 optical resonance of atomic Rubidium Isotope 87.
A rubidium clock is basically a crystal oscillator locked to an atomic reference. The rubidium physics package serves as a passive discriminator, producing an error signal that varies in magnitude and sense as a function of the difference in frequency between the applied RF excitation and the atomic resonance. Rubidium is a small, low weight and low cost atomic standard that is quickly activated. It delivers good phase noise performance, exhibits low G force sensitivity, and operates in a wide temperature range. These advantages make it an ideal alternative to quartz technology. Rubidium clocks provide rapid operational stability after turn on, exhibit better long term aging characteristics, and are less susceptible to physical effects.
A low-cost GPS receiver can get you accurate timing at ±10,000ps. The Miniature Atomic Clock SA.35m is four orders of magnitude more accurate at ±8ps. And considering atomic clocks used to be the size of a small car, the MAC is incredibly small at 51x51mm (2" square).
We do not plan to regularly produce SparkX products so get them while they’re hot!
Serial communication (for configuration and monitoring):
There are a variety of good articles out there about the advancements of atomic clocks. Here are a few we enjoyed:
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I have no idea what I would ever do with this, but it is great to have something this edgy available to us makers. Thank you again for looking for things I do not even know I needed.
Could we get a sample tutorial on how to use it? Something like a popcorn timer would be great.
Will i be able to use this to turn a light on automatically at night time?
Yes. Very precisely.
So my 'itty-bitty-question': Is this accurate enough to measure time dilation, as predicted by Special Relativity, when crossing the country via car? (Don't know how the TSA would react to having this on an airline.)
Second Question: How do even SET the thing - accurately? Via another atomic clock? Certainly not manually.
To get measurable results with this ting, you'd have to take a long transoceanic airplane flight. and you'd need a stationary atomic clock to compare to. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hafele%E2%80%93Keating_experiment
There used to be an app called "Einstein's Pedometer" that would calculate this. For a normal subway ride the effect was good for a few ten thousandths of a nanosecond. https://gizmodo.com/5790137/einsteins-pedometer-app-measures-your-ageing-or-lack-thereof
Actually, you don't really "set" it as it is not really a clock in the sense of a time-piece. This is just a frequency standard. It does not keep time and does not have any concept of time. It does, however, produce an extremely stable 10 MHz signal. If you have reason to believe that the factory calibration of that 10 MHz signal is off, you can adjust it via an RS-232 port and software from MicroSemi. You just need a significantly better standard and a phase meter to use in making the adjustment.
These clocks would not be good enough for your car ride. They would not even be good enough for measuring time dilation due to accumulated general and special relativity on an around-the-world airplane trip. If you know someone at SpaceX, I suspect you could make some interesting measurements if you could stow-away on the returned boosters. Of course controlling all the variables will be.. a challenge.
2nd answer: Yes, you set it manually. Usually with an RS-232 command in conjunction with a synchronization pulse (e.g., from another atomic clock, or GPS/1PPS).
1st answer: No, relativistic effects are unbelievably small. A car going say, 60 mph, has a predicted time dilation factor (red shift) of 4e-15. To detect or measure that you would want a clock that is 10x better than that, which brings you to 4e-16. According to the specs above, this relatively inexpensive, low-power, miniature atomic clock is accurate to only 8e-12. Do the math; you'd need a clock that's 20,000 times better if you want to measure time dilation in a highway / car experiment. So item SPX-14830 is probably not for you. Time dilation is usually measured with laboratory-grade cesium clocks, not compact rubidium clocks.
This is not to say these miniature clocks aren't really cool. It's just that time dilation due velocity (at human scale) is nearly impossible to detect. That's why most time dilation experiments choose to detect gravitational time dilation instead; on earth it's easier to go higher than go faster.
If my setup is ever going to replace the packaged solutions from microsemi. Then they need disciplined rubidium oscillators like the pair of outrageously expensive S350’s I have racked up.
Soon every time device will have its own atomic clock chip once the Chinese start selling them for pennies.
I'm happy this exists, and I can think of applications (10mhz timing signal for a software defined radio)
The price is good. If I need it for a serious project, I would get it. For fun hacking, my budget is smaller. But to be fair, a GPSDO isn't cheap either.
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