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Scientists Have Measured The Smallest Fragment of Time Ever

We just witnessed an electron escaping an atom.

Our perception of time and the world around us totally became more precise. Physicists have measured the smallest fragment of time ever observed. They have effectively measured changes in an atom on the level of zeptoseconds (one trillionth of a billionth of a second).

A team led by the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany were studying the photoelectric effect (first proposed by Albert Einstein in 1905, that happens when the fundamental particle of visible light, known as photons, hit the electrons orbiting an atom). They have been able to see the other side of the process for the first time and measure what happens in the very small amount of time before the electron leaves the atom. They did this by firing ultraviolet laser pulses at a helium atom, and were able to measure the whole photoelectric effect with zeptosecond (10-21 seconds) exactness – the smallest speck of time ever measured.

They chose helium atoms to study because they have just two electrons, which means they’re complicated enough that the researchers were capable of measuring their quantum mechanical behavior (how the photon’s energy was split between the electrons), yet simple enough that they could notice some samples in the results.In the first series of experiments, the team fired a range of lasers at a helium atom, to provoke its two electrons. The pulse lasted just 100 to 200 attoseconds, but by doing statistics and calculating their statistical spread, the team was able to reduce events down to a time period of 850 zeptoseconds. Then a near-infrared laser pulse was also fired at the atom, which lasted 4 femtoseconds (10

They chose helium atoms to study because they have just two electrons, which means they’re complicated enough that the researchers were capable of measuring their quantum mechanical behavior (how the photon’s energy was split between the electrons), yet simple enough that they could notice some samples in the results.In the first series of experiments, the team fired a range of lasers at a helium atom, to provoke its two electrons. The pulse lasted just 100 to 200 attoseconds, but by doing statistics and calculating their statistical spread, the team was able to reduce events down to a time period of 850 zeptoseconds. Then a near-infrared laser pulse was also fired at the atom, which lasted 4 femtoseconds (10

The pulse lasted just 100 to 200 attoseconds, but by doing statistics and calculating their statistical spread, the team was able to reduce events down to a time period of 850 zeptoseconds. Then a near-infrared laser pulse was also fired at the atom, which lasted 4 femtoseconds (10

Then a near-infrared laser pulse was also fired at the atom, which lasted 4 femtoseconds (10-15 seconds), detecting an escaping electron as soon as it left the atom. In the end, the researchers were able to get some understanding into how the electrons divided up the laser’s energy. Sometimes the energy was split equally between the two, sometimes unevenly, and sometimes one electron took the whole energy. There were a few factors that affected the divide, including the connection between the electrons and the electromagnetic condition of the laser field. Now the team will make an effort to manage more experiments to create a full explanation of how these electrons act when they are exposed to a photon’s energy.

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