Home Sciences Cosmic rays will be the clocks of the future

Cosmic rays will be the clocks of the future


A method of cosmic timing proposes to synchronize all clocks on Earth: according to a study, collisions between high-energy cosmic rays and our atmosphere generate particles called muons, which would serve to measure time with much greater precision than they reach current methods.

Research carried out at the University of Tokyo, in Japan, proposes a new methodology for measuring time on Earth, which would be more precise than those currently used. To do this, a new technology based on the detection of muons would be used, the ultra-energetic particles that are produced when cosmics rays hit the atmosphere of our planet.

looking again at the sky

Time is a concept inextricably linked to human experience. Historically, the civilizations that predominated in the different continents have sought to measure it by looking towards the cosmos: the Sun, the Moon or the stars were the parameter chosen to specify the passage of time. Now, a Japanese scientist has once again looked to the sky to propose a new method of measuring timebut from cosmic rays.

The muography or muon tomography It relies on the properties of muons, elementary particles that “break off” from cosmic rays when they reach our planet from deep space, to measure the density and other characteristics of an object.

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These particles are capable of passing through solid structures, even doing so every second in our bodies, without our noticing. Thanks to this technique it was possible, for example, to discover unknown cavities in the Egyptian pyramids.

The teacher Hiroyuki Tanakaauthor of the new study published recently in the journal Scientific Reports, argues that muons derived from cosmic rays could be of great importance in achieving a “cosmic timekeeping” more precise: in this way, time could be measured more accurately and through simpler and safer techniques than those currently used.

According to a press release, although the atomic clocks have been doing this for decades with good results, these are large and expensive devices that can easily be affected by various phenomena. Instead, the Japanese scientist believes his new method could simplify the process and overcome current limitations.

muons everywhere

The approach is called cosmic time synchronization (CTS). It relies on multiple independent devices capable of detecting muons arriving from the atmosphere, which will have a unique signature for each cosmic ray event that generates them. By sharing this information, the CTS devices can communicate with each other and synchronize their clocks, according to when the cosmic ray event occurred.

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Like the impacts of cosmics rays ultra high energy they occur about a hundred times per hour on each square kilometer of the Earth, their frequency and distribution is more than enough for the CTS devices to work together and in real time. According to Tanaka, this system would be much simpler and cheaper to operate than atomic clocks, for example.

It is important to keep in mind that an accurate measurement of time is not vital just for ordering human activities: telecommunications networks, based on satellite information, positioning and navigation systems, and practically all the communication tools that we use today, depend on a precise timing. A minimal error could put the system in check and generate all kinds of negative consequences.


Cosmic time synchronizer (CTS) for wireless and precise time synchronization using extended air showers. Tanaka, HKM Scientific Reports (2022). DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-022-11104-z

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