NewsScientists clock the shortest time ever recorded in zeptoseconds

Scientists clock the shortest time ever recorded in zeptoseconds


The blink of your eyes is nothing compared to the shortest time ever recorded by scientists.

To measure the shortest interval between two events, atomic physicists at Goethe University in Professor Reinhard Dörner’s team recorded how long does it take for a particle of light (photon) to cross a single hydrogen molecule.

And they found, the unimaginably quick transit took 247 zeptoseconds, where one zeptosecond is measured in a trillionth of a billionth of a second, German scientists behind the study said.

In numbers, one zeptosecond could be denoted by the neumeric ‘1’ behind a decimal point and 20 zeros. The study results were published in the journal Science.

“Since we knew the spatial orientation of the hydrogen molecule, we used the interference of the two-electron waves to precisely calculate when the photon reached the first and when it reached the second hydrogen atom,” Sven Grundmann explained in a statement.

The photon (yellow, coming from the left) produces electron waves out of the electron cloud (grey) of the hydrogen molecule (red: nucleus), which interfere with each other (interference pattern: violet-white). The interference pattern is slightly skewed to the right, allowing the calculation of how long the photon required to get from one atom to the next. Credit: Sven Grundmann, Goethe University Frankfurt (Image and text via PHYS.ORG)

“We observed for the first time that the electron shell in a molecule does not react to light everywhere at the same time. The time delay occurs because the information within the molecule only spreads at the speed of light. With this finding, we have extended our COLTRIMS technology to another application.”

The study was a part of the global effort to understand the physics of time and trace the shortest of the shortest intervals. Knowing the shortest span of time possible gives scientists an edge in the understanding of the photoelectric effect.

It must be noted, this is not the first time physicists dipped into the realm of zeptoseconds. In 2016, researchers measured the shortest possible time using lasers and found 850 zeptoseconds. The study was published in the journal Nature Physics.

In 1999, an Egyptian physicist won the Nobel Prize on the subject for measuring time in femtoseconds, which is millionth of a billionth of a second. Goes without saying the current finding is a quantum leap in terms of accuracy.

The time it takes for molecular structures to change can be measured in femtoseconds, but the time taken by a particle of light or photon to move from one atom to another can be measured in zeptoseconds.

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