Atomic clocks to ring in one-nation, one-time

News Excerpt:

India is deploying atomic clocks across the country to ensure that the time shown in our digital watches, smartphones, and laptops is truly based on Indian Standard Time (IST).

Background:

  • Currently, most software operating modules in India rely on US-based Network Time Protocol servers. 
  • The Indian government wants all software to be synchronised with indigenous atomic clocks instead, both for uniformity in time and as a defence mechanism, especially in times of war.
  • The Consumer Affairs Ministry’s Legal Metrology Department and the National Physical Laboratory, or NPL, the nation’s timekeeper, are installing the atomic clocks.
  • So far, India has atomic clocks in Ahmedabad and Faridabad, and more are being installed in Bhubaneswar, Jaipur, and Hyderabad.
  • Only four other countries - the US, the UK, Japan, and Korea - have their own atomic clocks.

Need:

  • The project was initiated after the Kargil War when India was denied information on the GPS location of Pakistani intruders.
  • Having our time is important, especially in areas like defence security, cybersecurity, and online transactions.
    • Even a small time gap can be crucial in such situations.

Implementation framework by the government:

  • Through the Consumer Affairs Ministry, the government is developing a legal framework to mandate that all software service providers across the country synchronise their time with the atomic clocks developed by the National Physical Laboratory.
    • Failure to comply may result in severe penalties, including cancelling licences.
  • Currently, accurate time-keeping is done through satellite.
  • The Consumer Affairs Ministry and NPL are planning to connect all atomic clocks through optical cables.
    • As it will be more secure, given that satellite-based time dissemination is susceptible to potential blockage by enemy countries during wartime or emergencies.

About Atomic Clock:

  • For a satellite navigation system to work correctly, it is necessary that the signals broadcast by the satellites are transmitted synchronously. To achieve this, the satellites carry very stable clocks.
  • An atomic clock works like a conventional clock. Still, the time-base of the clock, instead of being an oscillating mass as in a pendulum clock, is based on the properties of atoms when transitioning between different energy states.
    • An atom, when excited by an external energy source, goes to a higher energy state. Then, from this state, it goes to a lower energy state. In this transition, the atom releases energy at a very precise frequency, which is characteristic of the type of atom.
    • This is like a signature for the type of material used. All that is needed to make a good clock is a way of detecting this frequency and using it as input to a counter. This is the principle behind an atomic clock.