This method of cosmic timing proposes to synchronize all clocks on Earth

Modern technology beats with a heart rate measured in microseconds. From global positioning systems to communications networks, it’s critical that every component falls into near perfect synchronization.

Based on standards determined by a specialist working group, signals sent over fiber optics or down from an orbiting satellite tend to ensure that time-sensitive technology corresponds to moments down to the nanosecond.

However, this will not always be the case. Dependent on fallible electronics, separated by vast distances, hidden under waves and stone, it is easy for the vital elements of a network to lose rhythm.

According to Hiroyuki Tanaka, a geophysicist from the University of Tokyo, it might be high time to look elsewhere for a more reliable and accessible stopwatch. As towards the sky, and above.

“It’s relatively easy to keep accurate time these days. For example, atomic clocks have been doing this for decades now,” says Tanaka.

“However, they are large and expensive devices that are very easy to disrupt. That’s one of the reasons I worked on a better way to keep time.”

Called cosmic time synchronization (CTS), Tanaka proposes that we use the subatomic fireworks that rain down from collisions between high-energy cosmic rays and our atmosphere.

These collisions generate a variety of particles, one of which is the electron’s heavy cousin, the muon.

These beefy chunks of matter shoot toward the planet’s surface at nearly the speed of light, respecting its path with little respect. Hold out your hand and you can expect a muon to pierce your palm once every second.

Even the rock beneath your feet struggles to block its path, a feature that makes them perfect for illuminating the interior of dense structures like the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Basically, each muon shower rains down in a slightly unique way, providing a characteristic explosion that can be detected independently by sensors spread over several square kilometers.

By sharing the details of each event and working backwards, a network can use a series of cosmic muon fireworks to synchronize its watches with split-second precision.

(Hiroyuki KM Tanaka)

“The principle is robust and the technology, detectors and timing electronics already exist, so we could implement this idea quite quickly,” Tanaka said.

It’s easy to imagine a network of muon sensors at the bottom of the ocean or scattered in remote areas, dutifully synchronized to align observations that could help locate earthquakes or prevent tsunamis.

Tanaka says the technology could also have the added benefit of providing the basis for a new type of global positioning system by mapping muons back to their source.

It remains to be seen whether such a technology could complement current methods, serve as an alternative in certain situations or replace them completely.

“Thomas Edison illuminated Manhattan starting with a single light bulb,” says Tanaka.

“Maybe we should take this approach, starting with a city block, then a neighborhood, and eventually syncing all of Tokyo and beyond.”

This research was published in Scientific reports.

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