'Tabletop' Science Confirms Relativity

BOULDER, Colo., Sept. 23 (UPI) — Exploring the peculiar effects of Einstein’s relativity theory is no longer rocket science — in fact, U.S. scientists say it can be demonstrated on a tabletop.

Using super precise atomic clocks, scientists have witnessed the phenomenon of time dilation — the bizarre speeding up or slowing down of time described by the theory, ScienceNews.org reported.


“Modern technology has gotten so precise you can see these exotic effects in the range of your living room,” says physicist Clifford Will of Washington University in St. Louis.

The experiments don’t reveal any new physics, Will says, but “what makes it cute and pretty cool is they have done it on a tabletop.”

Time dilation happens in two situations — time appears to move more slowly the closer you are to a massive object, such as Earth, and it speeds up for someone at rest relative to someone moving.

Previous experiments with rockets and airplanes have demonstrated these odd aspects of relativity.

Now researchers have used two atomic clocks sitting atop steel tables in neighboring labs at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo. Each keeps time by vibrating an atom of aluminum more than a million billion times per second. A 75-meter-long optical cable connects the clocks, which allows the scientists to compare the instruments.

The researchers first raised one clock about a foot in relation to the other and, sure enough, the lower clock ran more slowly, at the rate of losing a 90-billionth of a second in 79 years.

They then caused one clock to move — just slightly — and predicted, the moving clock ran slower than the one at rest.

“It’s pretty breathtaking precision,” says physicist Daniel Kleppner of MIT.

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