What Is an Atomic Clock?

Atomic clock
James Stevenson/Getty Images

Want to set your clock to the correct time? Then you’ll want to set it to an atomic clock. Atomic clocks are by definition, the most accurate timepieces in the world and are the standard by which all other timepieces are set. Although several atomic clocks exist around the world, the one used by home automation devices is located outside Boulder, Colorado.

What Is An Home Atomic Clock?

When you purchase a clock that labels itself as an “atomic clock,” you are actually buying a device that synchronizes itself to the US government’s official Atomic Clock outside Boulder, Colorado. Home atomic clocks are designed to receive a radio signal broadcast from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Colorado and synchronize to that signal.

Limitations of Atomic Clocks

The majority of home atomic clocks only work (synchronize to Atomic Time) within the continental United States. This means your atomic clock will not synchronize correctly in Hawaii, Alaska, or continents other than North America. Home atomic clocks only work in some areas of Canada and Mexico.

Another limitation of home atomic clocks is that they may not receive the NIST signal within large buildings containing steel construction. Moving clocks closer to windows in these types of buildings will usually resolve the synchronization problem.

Synchronizing Computers

Most computer operating systems automatically synchronize the computer’s clock with NIST time services, providing you have an Internet connection. If your computer does not automatically synchronize its clock, there are numerous time synchronizations utilities available to enable your computer to do this automatically.

If you would like to check your computer (or home) clocks, you can access the official NIST time at www.time.gov.

Synchronizing Home Automation Devices

When using a computer interface to control your home automation devices, your devices will automatically synchronize themselves to the controller. Using a home automation gateway and the computer’s Internet time sync ensures that all home automation devices are operating with NIST time.