Troubleshooting Atomic Clocks & Outdoor Sensors

Fascinating and flawless in timekeeping, atomic clocks are a wonder. There are many different types of atomic clocks, but they all keep the same time – until they don't. Each type of atomic clock can give its owner pause to find a fix for an errant timepiece.

The Weltzeituhr (World Clock) at Alexanderplatz, Berlin
credit: Nellmac/iStock/GettyImages
Troubleshooting Atomic Clocks & Outdoor Sensors

What Makes Atomic Clocks Tick?

Atomic clocks give the most accurate known time and are used by global navigation satellite systems, television broadcast companies and other world businesses that rely on precise timekeeping to run smoothly. Much like a pendulum clock, an atomic clock keeps time by oscillations. In the case of an atomic clock, it's the natural oscillations of atoms rather than weight that keep it in good time. This makes them entirely more precise than the regulator clocks that were invented in the late 18th century. Atoms of cesium, which are what atomic clocks use, resonate at the exact same known frequency so they can tell time down to the precise second. The atoms are cooled to near absolute zero with lasers. The colder the atoms, the more slowly the clock will run. The clock receives scheduled updates from the atomic clock in Fort Collins, Colorado, to keep it running at the correct pace.

What Goes Wrong?

If the scheduled updates are not coming through to your clock and it's giving you trouble, check the position of the clock. If it has been moved recently or has settled into its space at a slant, it may not be receiving the signals being transmitted. Metals in walls, such as metal siding or aluminum around door and window jambs, can throw off the signal. If you use a remote sensor to receive information to your clock, check that it is not malfunctioning, caked with dirt or has had its casing compromised due to inclement weather. If all else fails, check the batteries. If you are using rechargeable batteries, they may not be giving the remote sensor the juice it needs to perform properly.

Going In Manually

The clock may need a tune up manually if it still can't find the signal. The signal transmission from Fort Collins is strongest at night when the sun's rays don't interrupt the strength as much. Remove the batteries and place the clock in an area that isn't stuffed with materials, such as metal, that can interrupt the signal. Replace the batteries and the clock will instantly attempt to find a signal all by itself.