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A division of the state weather agency just bought a P50-million clock from a US supplier that tells time more accurately than the earth does when it spins on its axis.

A year after the project was bid out, the atomic clock arrived a month ago and was installed on Wednesday following the arrival of two engineers from the US contractor Microsemi Corp.

The unit, which is about the size of a large refrigerator, has three rows of atomic caesium clocks for holdover redundancy and is plugged into the network time protocol (NTP) of the Philippine Standard Time. The atomic clock tells the time by measuring the oscillation of energized atoms in an electromagnetic field.

“Ang Pilipinas ngayon ay makaka-level na sa scientific community dahil ang ating gamit ay top-of-the-line (The Philippines is now leveling-up with the scientific community because we’re using [an equipment that is] the top-of-the-line),” Mario Raymundo, chief of the Astronomical Observation and Time Service Unit of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical and Astronomical Service Administration, told InterAksyon.com. “Level up na tayo. Hindi na tayo pipitsugin gaya ng dati (We’ve leveled-up. We’re no longer small-time like before).”

The atomic clock, which can tell time up to the nanosecond, is currently the most precise and stable timekeeping device so much so that it will take 30 million years for it go off by a second. The atomic clock is even more stable than solar time, as the earth’s speed spinning on its axis is affected by the moon’s gravitational pull and large-scale disasters such as earthquakes. The instability of the earth’s rotation actually gives rise to the so-called “leap second,” a one-second adjustment to the Coordinated Universal Time to keep it in line with solar time.

“Typically, most people would use it for navigation systems, metrology, and calibration. In this case, it’s also going to be used as an authoritative time server for the Philippines,” said Kirk Montgomery, one of the two Microsemi systems engineer who installed the system in PAGASA.

Nanosecond precision has huge implications in high-level applications such as GPS, where a slight millisecond variance can set off positioning data by a million feet due to the speed of light. Telecom circuits also rely on precise clocking mechanisms to coordinate data packets with clock speeds.

Raymundo said they will coordinate with interested stakeholders in the private and public sector on how they could connect to the atomic clock through their NTP server. The country will now also be capable of being recognized as a contributor to the International Bureau of Weight and Measures in France.

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