NASA is working on tracking how every minute, our planet is changing. The space agency has found that atoms hold the key to this.
Physicist Babak Saif from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, Maryland has built an instrument that will use atoms to study gravity. An object's weight is formed directly by the gravitational pull on it. According to Saif, the instrument is so sensitive, that when the scientists took a break for lunch, it detected the food in their stomachs.
The instrument is a quantum sensor, which has been developed jointly by NASA and AOSense and will work using 100 million cesium atoms. It launches the atoms inside a cylindrical column and measures the time they take to come down. This reveals even tiny fluctuations in gravity.
Here's how Sergei Kopeikin of the University of Missouri, explains it, "Imagine you have a ruler made of wood or iron. If you increase the temperature, the size of the ruler will increase." This is what the sensor will measure.
The way further is launching this instrument into space and mapping the earth's gravitational field, according to NASA Goddard Geophysicist Scott Luthcke. Most importantly, this instrument makes it easy to monitor the masses of glaciers and detect changes in sea level.
The sensor can detect even small changes, such as a 1.5 cm change in sea level around Hawaii. The instrument isolates atoms from all forces except gravity, which makes its calculations accurate.
The sensor is not just useful in space, but on earth too. According to Wired, it will be able to detect underground structures 10 to 50 feet below the ground without boring holes into it. It will work more precisely and easily than commercial sensors. This could cut a lot of civil engineering costs for laying down railway lines and constructing flyovers.
The precision of the instrument will also be useful in studying the concept of gravity itself and might also further Einstein's work in gravity and the theory of relativity.