The Ultimate Clock

Keeping precise time on the universe’s scale

By Charles Petit, 11:02 AM October 6, 2011

Time is an ancient and contrary mystery. Augustine of Hippo, writing his Confessions in a North African monastery, asked “Who can even in thought comprehend it, so as to utter a word about it? But what in discourse do we mention more familiarly and knowingly, than time?”

More than 16 centuries later, many scholars share the feeling, if not the prospect of sainthood. “We don’t even know what time is. But we can measure it really, really well,” says Chris Oates, a physicist at the National In...

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