Physicists have an upper limit on the fundamental period of time is a universal unit that determines the ultimate accuracy of any physical clock. According to theoretical calculations, this value does not exceed 10-33 seconds and therefore inaccessible to modern instruments, the best resolution of which is of the order of 10-18 seconds. Work published in Physical Review Letters.

In classical physics time acted as an absolute (not dependent on observer) and a priori (i.e. in advance is clear and does not define) a continuous value. However, with the development of more accurate concepts of quantum mechanics, which describes the phenomena of the microcosm, and General relativity (GR), which explains the behavior of gravity, — the role of time has ceased to be unambiguous. General relativity assumes that the passage of time depends on the position of the observer — the clock (any device for measuring time) closer to a massive body, the slower they go: the time interval between two events depends on the reference system in which it calculated. In quantum mechanics time is a universal external parameter, it is conceived as absolute, and its consideration is beyond the scope of the theory.

Thus, the two most successful (from the point of view of conformity to the predictions of theory and experimental data) of the concept of conflict in the interpretation of time: a theory of relativity requires it, and the other uses its absoluteness. To develop a single viewthat would be equally well described by quantum phenomena, and gravitation is necessary, including to remove the dispute. One possible way is to abandon the continuous flow of time and to introduce into consideration a universal period that will determine the minimum increment between the two points and the limiting accuracy of any watch. It is important to know about the duration of this step — it allows the experiments to verify the effects that the model predicts (or be sure in the absence of these effects).

Garrett, Wendell (Wendel Garrett) and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania have built a theoretical model to estimate the fundamental time period. In the proposed model versatile watch is presented in the form of the quantum oscillator is an abstract quantum system whose state varies with the fundamental period. This system interacts with another oscillator — a physical clock, monitors and observer are available for measurement.

Selecting the specific mathematical representations to describe oscillators (in particular, linking time in its usual sense, over time, universal pendulum), the authors analytically the connection between the fundamental period, the period of the physical clock and the standard deviation of the phase of the wave function of the system in the stationary state (that is, in a state with constant energy). To limit the top value of the fundamental period of time, scientists put the period of a physical oscillator is equal to the characteristic period of the atomic clocks (of the order of 10-15 seconds), and the standard deviation of the phase of the wave function was assessed as the relative temporal resolution available in modern devices (10-19).

As a result, the researchers found that the fundamental period of time should not exceed 10-33 seconds: this is about 10 orders of magnitude greater than the Planck time, which sets a limit on the applicability of modern physical theories. However, the magnitude is far beyond the resolution of the instrument is the smallest measurable period of time today is about 10-18 seconds, at least in the quadrillions of times greater than the fundamental period. This circumstance, as well as numerical simulations, which physicists have held on the basis of theoretical equations show that, under the current accuracy the effects of discreteness of time should not make a significant contribution to the experimental data. However, if comparable to the fundamental period times will be available for monitoring, it will impose a fundamental limitation on the resolution of the devices — a move identical to the physical clock can not be confirmed with precision that exceeds the precision universal.

In addition, the authors note that evaluation is not sensitive to the choice of a particular fundamental physical and oscillators — more complex systems in the role of another object leads to the equations of more complex species, but such details would not significantly affect the calculations. Thus, it is possible to speak about obtaining strict upper bounds for the fundamental time period.

Learn more about fundamental constants and physical quantities in the material “Standard of independence”, and to see how well you do in the duration of different processes — using the test “Tick or so”.