A group of scientists measured the shortest unit of time ever by measuring the time it takes for a light particle to traverse a hydrogen molecule. The measurement is known as the zeptosecond and is a trillionth of a billionth of a second. This is a decimal point, followed by 20 zeros and a one.
In 2016, the researchers were able to measure the time in steps of up to 850 zeptoseconds. Researchers say the new level of accuracy could measure 247 zeptoseconds. This is a massive increase in accuracy compared to the femtosecond, which is a millionth of a billionth of a second. The work on femtoseconds was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1999.
The time it takes for chemical bonds to break apart and form is measured in femtoseconds. However, zeptoseconds is the measurement by which light is measured as it moves over a single hydrogen molecule. The physicist Richard Dorner from Goethe University in Germany and colleagues used X-rays from PETRA III at the German Electron Synchrotron (DESY), a particle accelerator in Hamburg.
The energy of the X-rays was adjusted so that a single photon or light particle could knock two electrons out of the hydrogen molecule. The interaction created a wave pattern called the interference pattern, which the team was able to measure using a tool called a COLTRIMS reaction microscope (Cold Target Recoil Ion Momentum Spectroscopy).
The tool is a very sensitive particle detector that can record extremely fast atomic and molecular reactions. Using the tool, the team found that 247 zeptoseconds is the time it takes for light to move around the molecule. Essentially, the team recorded the speed of light in the hydrogen molecule. Dorner said the team observed for the first time that the electron shell and the molecule don̵