A lot can happen in a second; you could meet a stranger, snap your fingers, fall in love, fall asleep, sneeze. But what is a second, really — and is it as precise as we think it is?
Right now, the most-precise clocks used to tell global time have an error of about 1 second every 300 million years — so a clock that started ticking in the time of the dinosaurs wouldn’t be off by even a second today. But scientists think we can do better. So, they are looking to lutetium, a neglected rare-earth element that has been gathering dust at the bottom of the periodic table, according to a new study published April 25 in the journal Nature Communications.
In the olden days, a second was defined as a fraction (1/86400) of the average solar day, the 24-hour rotation of the Earth around its axis. But the rotation of the Earth can vary slightly, so scientists decided to stop scanning the heavens to calibrate our clocks and scaled things way down — to the level of atoms, the invisible building blocks of matter.