I was at a ham radio flea market (dah/dit/dit dit dah/dit/dah dah/dit/dit/dit dah/dah/dah/dah/dah dit/dit/dah dit/dit/dit) selling a whole lot of very valuable stuff for not a lot of money when I heard something truly frightening; Donald Trump wants to kill all your atomic clocks! I learned about this plot since I was selling parts to atomic clocks and this hit me directly in the pocketbook since I couldn’t sell any of them at any price! (See Note)
You may have one of these gems that syncs the time to the government’s NIST Radio Station WWVB located near Fort Collins, Colorado which is just a few miles north of me.
In its Fiscal 2019 budget to Congress, the Trump Administration proposed cutting $26.6 million and 136 jobs from NIST’s fundamental measurements, quantum science and measurement dissemination activities. Among other things, this cut would mean turning off WWV and WWVB even though in addition to synchronizing clocks and watches, the time signals are also used in appliances, cameras and irrigation controllers. The amount specifically attributable to WWV and WWVB is $6.3 million.
How good is your atomic clock?
The NIST version of UTC, called UTC(NIST), is generated by averaging an ensemble of cesium beam and hydrogen maser clocks. The ensemble is periodically calibrated using a cesium fountain clock called NIST-F1, which serves as the primary time interval and frequency standard for the United States
Wowzer! That sounds pretty accurate and it is except for one little thing — radio signals take time to go from Fort Collins to wherever the clock is located. Also, the clock won’t instantly synchronize so that creates inaccuracies. At the end of the day, the accuracy is probably 0.2-0.5 seconds which, as we used to say, is plenty good enough for government work.
What’s a good conservative radio geek to do? On one hand, WWV, which also broadcasts from Fort Collins, is the oldest radio station in the United States beginning operation on December 15, 1920. WWVB went on the air on July 5, 1963 and added the time code allowing “atomic clocks” to be produced. It’s comforting that if all of today’s modern technology goes kaflooey due to GPS satellites being knocked off line, we can still tell what time it is. On the other hand, WWVB is a bit like a modern sundial. If WWVB goes off the air, nothing very interesting happens except people with atomic clocks will need to set them manually.
We do have the issue that this is a clear demonstration of how President Trump is anti-science. As the Union of Concerned Scientists have said:
Since the Trump administration has taken office, we have seen federal scientists attacked. Federal scientists have been censored. They have been reassigned to undertake tasks not affiliated with their expertise. They have been prevented from attending conferences.
At the EPA, it is possible that some scientists may have been targeted for their personal views of the Trump administration. Additionally, the Trump administration is using various strategies to hollow out agencies by diminishing their scientific workforce.
Since I don’t have much respect for the Union of Concerned Scientists, let’s SHUT IT DOWN!
Note: No, I’m not making this up. I really had about a half dozen kits for making atomic clocks. I was also selling Numitrons. Let’s see if anyone out there knows what a Numitron is!