China sends most accurate clock in the world to the Tiangong-2 space station

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A stickler for time? You may want to go to space.

After all, that is where you can find the most accurate clock in the world. The most precise time-keeping device on the planet is officially off the planet and is now orbiting Earth in Tiangong-2, the second space station to be launched by China’s space program.

On Thursday, the space station was launched from the Gobi Desert and included in its precious cargo was the world’s first cold atomic clock. Over the course of the next two years, astronauts aboard the Tiangong-2 plan on conducting experiments involving the Cold Atomic Clock in Space (CACS), notably, whether or not “escaping the effects of gravity increases the accuracy of the timepiece,” the Christian Science Monitor reports.

While all clocks on Earth are ultimately just a tiny bit inaccurate — thanks, gravity — the CACS is even less inaccurate. Whereas the best clock on the planet loses a second every 300 million years, the atomic clock slows down by a second only once every billion years.

For this reason, atomic clocks are often used to calibrate highly delicate electronics, like GPS, or used in particle physics, geology, and other fields where accuracy and precision are of the utmost importance. And now, China hopes to use the CACS to further improve practices with both government and civilian uses.

“It is the world’s first cold atomic clock to operate in space … it will have military and civilian applications,” said Professor Xu Zhen, a scientist involved with the atomic clock project, in an interview with the South China Morning Post. For example, China hopes that the CACS will help the country improve its own GPS. And of course, Chinese astronauts would also like to make this particular atomic clock the most accurate device in — or off —  the world.

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