Teams at Germany's Max Planck Institute and the University of Vienna have sliced time more finely that ever before. The researchers successfuly recorded an interval of one ten million billionth of a second: that's shorter than the period of an electron's orbit in a hydrogen atom.
They used pulses of UV light, each lasting 250 attoseconds (a thousand million billionth of a second), to excite atoms. When excited atoms relax, they emit electrons to carry away the excess energy.
The team recorded the path of these electrons*, using a laser recorder. The position of the negative charges were marked at intervals of 100 attoseconds, in what must be the ultimate achievement in slow-motion photography. To put this in context: an attosecond is to a second what a second is to about 300 million years.
The smallest time interval measured prior to this result was ten times longer: an interminable million billionth of a second.
The results are published in full in Nature. ®
*There is no suggestion that these elctrons have been using any performance enhancing substances. Not even designer, undetectable ones.