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Time and frequency: SI unit of time (second)

Definition agreed by the 26th CGPM (November 2018), implemented 20 May 2019:

    The second, symbol s, is the SI unit of time. It is defined by taking the fixed numerical value of the caesium frequency DeltanuCs, the unperturbed ground-state hyperfine transition frequency of the caesium-133 atom, to be 9 192 631 770 when expressed in the unit Hz, which is equal to s–1.

    This definition implies the exact relation DeltanuCs = 9 192 631 770 Hz. Inverting this relation gives an expression for the unit second in terms of the defining constant DeltanuCs:


    The effect of this definition is that the second is equal to the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the unperturbed ground state of the 133Cs atom.

    Before 1960, the unit of time the second, was defined as the fraction 1/86 400 of the mean solar day. The exact definition of "mean solar day" was left to astronomers. However measurements showed that irregularities in the rotation of the Earth made this an unsatisfactory definition. In order to define the unit of time more precisely, the 11th CGPM (1960) adopted a definition given by the International Astronomical Union based on the tropical year 1900. Experimental work, however, had already shown that an atomic standard of time, based on a transition between two energy levels of an atom or a molecule, could be realized and reproduced much more accurately. Considering that a very precise definition of the unit of time is indispensable for science and technology, the 13th CGPM (1967-1968) chose a new definition of the second referenced to the frequency of the ground state hyperfine transition in the caesium 133 atom. A revised more precise wording of this same definition now in terms of a fixed numerical value of the unperturbed ground-state hyperfine transition frequency of the caesium 133 atom, DeltanuCs, was adopted in Resolution 1 of the 26th CGPM (2018).

See more: History of the SI