Have you ever wondered how time is regulated?? In the United States, the standard of time is regulated by the US Naval Observatory's Master Clock (USNO), the official source of time for the Department of Defense. The effects of these mechanisms are felt by all of us in the form of alarm clocks, computers, answering machines and meeting schedules. Without atomic clocks, GPS navigation would be impossible, the Internet would not synchronize, and the position of the planets would not be known with enough accuracy for space probes and landers to be launched and monitored.
What's the Difference Between a Standard and an Atomic Clock?
The big difference between a standard clock in your home and an atomic clock is that the oscillation in an atomic clock is between the nucleus of an atom and the surrounding electrons. This oscillation is not exactly a parallel to the balance wheel and hairspring of a wrist watch, but the fact is that both use oscillations to keep track of passing time. The oscillation frequencies within the atom are determined by the mass of the nucleus and the gravity and electrostatic "spring" between the positive charge on the nucleus and the electron cloud surrounding it.
Modern radio clocks can be referenced to atomic clocks, and provide a way of getting very accurate time over a wide area. Although radio clocks are not appropriate for high-precision scientific work, they are perfect for the home and office. Stores sometimes call radio clocks "atomic clocks"; though the radio signals they receive usually come from true atomic clocks, they are not atomic clocks themselves. Here's the kicker, though: it gives you the same accurate reading, at a much lower cost. And, you will never have to think about resetting your clocks after an electrical storm again. Since radio clocks receive a signal from an atomic clock, they will always show accurate time. Radio clocks are appropriate for almost any situation and make great gifts for everyone!