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Tick, Tick, Tick…
Many aspects of everyday life from communication to navigation rely on the precise ticking of the microwave transitions of the atoms in atomic clocks. Optical transitions occur at much higher frequency and so offer the opportunity to reduce the scale of the ticks even more. Hinkley et al. (p. 1215, published online 22 August; see the Perspective by Margolis) compare the ticking of two optical clocks and report an instability near the 10−18 level. Such performance will improve tests of general relativity and pave the way for a redefinition of the second.
Atomic clocks have been instrumental in science and technology, leading to innovations such as global positioning, advanced communications, and tests of fundamental constant variation. Timekeeping precision at 1 part in 1018 enables new timing applications in relativistic geodesy, enhanced Earth- and space-based navigation and telescopy, and new tests of physics beyond the standard model. Here, we describe the development and operation of two optical lattice clocks, both using spin-polarized, ultracold atomic ytterbium. A measurement comparing these systems demonstrates an unprecedented atomic clock instability of 1.6 × 10–18 after only 7 hours of averaging.