A second feels fast. A tenth of a second feels even faster. We blink over the course of a few hundredths of a second.
But what about a trillionth of a billionth of a second?
[Image Courtesy of Pixabay]
Physicists successfully measured time in zeptoseconds while watching an electron escape from an atom. This is now the smallest observed span of time.
A team from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics led the research. They used lasers to hit a helium atom.
They were able to observe Einstein's photoelectric effect in full swing. Einstein proposed the effect in 1905 and said it happens when light particles (photons) hit an atom's electrons.
Quantum mechanics dictates that the energy from these photons either gets absorbed or dispersed among several electrons. But no one actually observed it until now. Thus, no one knew one way or the other what happened.
They measured the effect with zeptoseconds, making it the smallest fragment of time ever. Attoseconds (10 raised to the -18 seconds) held the record prior to the research.
"Using this information, we can measure the time it takes the electron to change its quantum state from the very constricted, bound state around the atom to the free state," one of the researchers, Marcus Ossiander, said in an interview with the New Scientist.
The laser pulse into the helium atom only lasted a couple hundred attoseconds. However, the team took masses of readings and could narrow down the events to just 850 zeptoseconds.
Then usen used an almost infrared laser pulse and calculated the ejection of an electron took between 7 to 20 attoseconds. The researchers noticed the energy was either split evenly or unevenly. They also noticed sometimes that one electron took the entire beam of energy.
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Researchers hope this discovery could improve quantum computing by understanding rapid-fire processes and attempting to duplicate the speed.
Via Nature Physics