Scientists record smallest measurement of time in history – the zeptosecond

Scientists have discovered the shortest amount of time ever recorded – and called it a zeptosecond.

The zeptosecond represents one trillionth of a billionth of a second.

Physicists from Goethe University Frankfurt used the measurement to record how long it takes for a photon to cross a hydrogen molecule, around 247 zeptoseconds.

Scientists irradiated a hydrogen molecule using X-rays from a Petra III laser, known as the most powerful light source of its kind. When they conducted this, they measured the event using zeptoseconds.

Only one photon was needed to send both electrons out of the hydrogen molecule, using the energy of the X-rays.

The photon skimmed across the two electrons, which behave like particles and waves simultaneously. When one electron was ejected the waves moved the second.

The waves from the second electron merged with the first and the photon could then move across the interference pattern, writes The Independent.

Scientists used a Cold Target Recoil Ion Momentum Spectroscopy (COLTRIMS) reaction microscope to measure the pattern, and alongside the knowledge of where the hydrogen molecule was, they recorded the time it took the photon to move.

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"Since we knew the spatial orientation of the hydrogen molecule, we used the interference of the two electron waves to precisely calculate when the photon reached the first and when it reached the second hydrogen atom," said Ph.D. candidate Sven Grundmann in a statement.

"And this is up to 247 zeptoseconds, depending on how far apart in the molecule the two atoms were from the perspective of light."

In the 1990s, Ahmed Zewail, an Egyption chemist, measured the speed of which molecules change shape. These actions are much slower and taking femtoseconds – one millionth of one billionth of a second.

"We observed for the first time that the electron shell in a molecule does not react to light everywhere at the same time.

"The time delay occurs because information within the molecule only spreads at the speed of light. With this finding we have extended our COLTRIMS technology to another application," Professor Reinhard Dörner said.

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