Physicists Set a Record by Measuring Time Distortion Across a Single Millimeter

If you venture close enough to a dark hole, you will quickly see how gravity affects reality.
Gravity's time-bending effects are not nearly as strong here on Earth. However, it is still detectable. It is also noteworthy that physicists have broken a record by describing the influence of our planet on the Universe's fabric on a millimeter-scale.

This milestone is worth paying attention to. We could solve one of the greatest problems in physics by zooming so close to reality's foundations.

JILA is a joint effort of US National Institute of Standards and Technology and University of Colorado. It measures the timing of light waves separated by 1 meter (about 0.04 inch). This results in a difference of just 0.76 millionths of one trillionth of percent.

This was caused by gravitational redshift, a phenomenon that occurs when gravity influences the frequency of two identical waves compared to one another.

Researchers are not surprised by the size of the number, however incomprehensible it may seem. This result is predicted by Einstein's general theory about relativity.

Although it may seem like there are two distinct constants for space and time, the Universe is actually a single four-dimensional sheet. Spacetime changes its shape when mass is absorbed into something.

This means that a second closer to an object, be it Earth, a Black Hole, or even a Jellybean, won't be as long as a second farther away.

These mathematical calculations are so exact and thoroughly tested that we can predict the difference for extremely small distances even if gravitational warping on Earth is as mild.

They must also be wrong. They must be wrong at least on a small level.

Quantum mechanics, another area of physics, has been extensively tested. It is important to remember that if you limit a measurement of one type, all properties are fundamentally less precise.

Although the two monolithic fields are reliable, they don’t always work well together. Quantum mechanics is not as central as general relativity in terms of time, for one.

A quantum microscope would reveal that the seamless spacetime sheet curving ever so gracefully to general relativity is a blurry mess because of the problem of less precise properties. Anyone trying to combine the ideas would find it a nightmare.

We need to know if either theory is failing. This could be used to determine where our predictions are off-base.

Researchers measured a relative frequency difference in light emission between atoms separated by a vertical distance just over 30 cm (about a foot) a little more than a decade ago.

Researchers used a new type of cavity to increase the power of the experiment to reduce the atomic density by an order-of-magnitude, which resulted in a reduction of the height of the atom density from centimeters down to a few millimeters.

They stuffed 100,000 strontium atoms into this chamber. Then they removed as much heat as they could to bring it to a halt.

The light emitted by the stack of atoms was measured and then corrected for gravitational effects.

After watching these clocks tick for 92 hours, the average result looked more or less like what would be expected if general relativity was true.

Although the team has not yet published their work for peer review, the results are now available on arXiv's pre-print server arXiv.

The difference in gravitationally redshifted emission levels was so small that it set a record for how precise we can detect the phenomenon. This gives us a measurement of the phenomenon almost 100 times more precise than any previous measurements.

Although it's not the theory-busting result that we desire, it's a lesson in technology shrinking to a size necessary for finding kinks within two of physics’ greatest ideas.