Zeptoseconds- The Smallest Measurement of Time Ever Recorded

Emma | 07 - 22 - 2021

You may think one second is the smallest unit of time. But no, scientists have discovered the shortest measurement of time and it’s called zeptosecond, a trillionth of a billionth of a second. The smallest measurement of time was discovered by a group of physicists from Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany and the study was published in a journal.  

The Smallest Measurement of Time

Researchers found the shortest measurement of time while studying “how long it takes a proton, a particle of light, to travel a hydrogen molecule.” Previously in 1999, Ahmed Zewail, an Egyptian chemist, won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for measuring smaller than seconds, femtoseconds, millionths of a billionth of seconds. It takes femtoseconds for chemical bonds to break whereas for zeptoseconds it takes light to travel across a single hydrogen molecule. Professor Reinhard Dörner and his team surpassed the Nobel Prize research and discovered zeptoseconds, the shortest measurement of time to date. 

But What Is the Smallest Measurement of Time? 

The smallest measurement of time, zeptosecond is a trillionth of a billionth of a second. The smallest time measuring unit is a decimal point followed by 20 zeros and a 1 that is 0.000 000 000 000 000 000 001 that is 1021 seconds. And the symbol of the smallest measure of time is zs. 

How Fast Is a Zeptosecond?
  • A. 1021Second
  • B. 1024Second
  • C. 1027 Seconds
  • D. 1025 Seconds

How Did the Scientists Measure the Smallest Unit of Time? 

Scientists carried out this experiment on a hydrogen molecule and they irradiated it with an X-ray. The X-ray laser source was PETRA III at the Hamburg accelerator facility Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY). The researchers measured the zeptosecond by releasing an X-rays wave onto a hydrogen molecule. A hydrogen molecule consists of two protons and two electrons. The researchers set the energy of the X-rays so that one single proton would be enough to knock down the two electrons of the hydrogen molecule. The researchers said that the electrons behaved like particles and waves at the same time. The proton ejected one electron and resulted in electron waves. The proton bounced one electron out of the molecule and the other behaved like a flat pebble skipping over the top of a pond. This interaction process created a wave pattern called an interference pattern. Reinhard Dörner and his team used this pattern and measured it with a tool called a Cold Target Recoil Ion Momentum Spectroscopy (COLTRIMS). It is a reaction microscope that can detect a very sensitive particle and even record extremely fast atomic and molecular reactions. The COLTRIMS microscope recorded the interference pattern and the position of the hydrogen molecule throughout the interaction. The researchers detected that the second electron also left the hydrogen molecule and the remaining hydrogen nuclei flew apart. The German scientist even plans to do a further experiment to measure even the smallest units of time. 

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