Scientists have measured the shortest unit of time of all time: the time it takes a light particle to cross a hydrogen molecule.
For recording, this time is 247 ceptoseconds. A zeptosecond is a trillionth of a billionth of a second or a decimal point, followed by 20 zeros and 1.
Earlier, researchers plunged into the realm of zeptoseconds; in 2016, researchers report in the journal Physics of nature used lasers to measure time in increments of up to 850 ceptoseconds.
This accuracy is a huge leap from the work of the 1999 Nobel Prize, which for the first time measured time in femtoseconds, which are millionths of a billionth of a second.
It takes femtoseconds for chemical bonds to break and form, but it takes zeptoseconds for light to pass through one molecule of hydrogen (H2).
To measure this very short trip, physicist Reinhard Derner of Goethe University in Germany and colleagues took X-rays from PETRA III at Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY), a particle accelerator in Hamburg.
The researchers set the X-ray energy so that one photon or particle of light knocked out two electrons from a hydrogen molecule. (A hydrogen molecule consists of two protons and two electrons.) A photon bounces one electron away from a molecule and then another, a bit like a pebble jumping over the top of a pond.
These interactions created a wave pattern called the interference pattern, which Derner and his colleagues could measure using an instrument called the ion pulsed refrigeration reaction microscope (COLTRIMS). This tool is essentially a very sensitive particle detector that can detect extremely rapid atomic and molecular reactions.
The COLTRIMS microscope recorded both the interference pattern and the position of the hydrogen molecule throughout the interaction.
“Because we knew the spatial orientation of the hydrogen molecule, we used the interference of two electron waves to accurately calculate when a photon reached the first and when the second hydrogen atom,”; said Sven Grundmann, co-author of the study at the University. Rostock in Germany, the report said.
This time? Two hundred and forty-seven ceptoseconds, with some oscillation space, depending on the distance between the hydrogen atoms inside the molecule at the exact moment when the photon flew. The measurement essentially captures the speed of light in the molecule.
IMAGE: A particle of light called a photon (yellow arrow) produces electron waves from an electron cloud (gray) of a hydrogen molecule (red: nuclei). The result of these interactions is the so-called interference pattern (purple-white). The interference structure is slightly skewed to the right, which allows researchers to calculate the time when a photon passes from one atom to the next.
“We first observed that the electron shell in the molecule does not respond to light everywhere at the same time,” Derner said in a statement. “The time delay is because the information inside the molecule propagates only at the speed of light.”
The results were described in detail on October 16 in the journal Science.
This article was originally published by Live Science. Read the original article here.