Historical perspective: Unit of length, metre


The 1889 definition of the metre, namely, the length of the international prototype of platinum-iridium, was replaced by the 11th CGPM (1960) using a definition based on the wavelength of the radiation corresponding to a particular transition in krypton 86. This change was adopted in order to improve the accuracy with which the definition of the metre could be realized, this being achieved using an interferometer with a travelling microscope to measure the optical path difference as the fringes were counted. In turn, this was replaced in 1983 by the 17th CGPM (Resolution 1) with a definition referenced to the distance that light travels in vacuum in a specified interval of time. The original international prototype of the metre, which was sanctioned by the 1st CGPM in 1889, is still kept at the BIPM under conditions specified in 1889. In order to make clear its dependence on the fixed numerical value of the speed of light, c, the wording of the definition was changed in Resolution 1 of the 26th CGPM (2018).


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CGPM Resolution (1889)

Sanction of the international prototypes of the metre and the kilogram

CGPM Resolution 6 (1960)

Definition of the metre

CGPM Resolution 1 (1983)

Definition of the metre

CGPM Resolution 1 (2018)

On the revision of the International System of Units (SI)