A new definition of kilogram went into effect today. No longer is the kilogram defined by Le Grand K, a 140-year-old weight under glass in a secret location near Paris. Now it's determined by the Planck constant, based on physicist Max Planck's theory that "electromagnetic energy at a given frequency could only be emitted in discrete amounts, or quanta, whose energy is proportional to h, now known as the Planck constant." Scientists at the 26th General Conference on Weights and Measures also redefined the kelvin, the ampere, and the mole. UP next, the second! The good news is that the changes are so small that they won't matter to most of us. From Science News:
Currently, the second is defined by atomic clocks made of cesium atoms. Those atoms absorb a certain frequency of light. The wiggling of the light’s electromagnetic waves functions like the pendulum on a grandfather clock, rhythmically keeping time. One second is defined as 9,192,631,770 oscillations of the light.
But a new generation of atomic clocks, known as optical atomic clocks, outdo the cesium clocks (SN: 11/11/17, p. 8). “Their performance is a lot better than what currently defines the second,” says physicist Andrew Ludlow of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo. Because those optical atomic clocks operate at a higher frequency, their “ticks” are more closely spaced, making them about 100 times more precise than cesium clocks.
Ideally, the length of a second should be defined using the most precise timepieces available. A switch might happen in the late 2020s, Ludlow says.