Weight is important. My vomit, post-holiday dog me enough evidence on this, but this is not enough for science.
On November 16, the General Conference on Weights and Measures was launched in France – which, I see, I admit, does not sound like the most concealing event. Scientists are expected to vote at the conference to change the definition of a kilogram that would be attached to one of the unchangeable phenomena of space: Planck's constant.
This all sounds a bit confusing, so take a few steps back.
The most widely used form of measurement in the world is based on the metric system and is officially known as the International System of Units (SI). The seven "base units" do this, including the ampere, the other and the mole. Some of these measurements have once identified physical phenomena, such as others based on the rotation of the Earth. The second is now defined by the time of radiation in the cesium atom 133.
Kilogram is the last base unit associated with a physical object.
This physical object is a piece of metal that is permanently installed underground in the International Bureau for Weights and Measures, Bureau International des poids et mesures, in Sèvres, France. Platinum-iridium alloy, also known formally as an international prototype kilogram and informally as Le Grand K, is somehow similar to the ring in the Lord of the Rings – this is one weight that everyone would rule. Each weight is calibrated against Le Grand K, which standardizes kilogram measurement worldwide.
But Le Grand K, fake in 1889, lost 50 micrograms in the last 129 years. Kilogram became "999.99995-gram". Unless, despite losing this small part of its mass, the kilogram is still determined by the Le Grand K, which changes over time – and scientists do not like this. They want it to be permanent, forever.
Thus, a kilogram can determine a fixed universal phenomenon known as the Planck constant, instead of a metal in an underground vault. But how does this work?
The new definition of a kilogram, if the vote had expired, is really scary if I read it because I feel like I almost do not understand anything about the universe. Here is:
It is defined by the adoption of a fixed numerical value of Planck's constant h that is 6,626 070 15 x 10-34, if expressed in the J⋅s unit, which is equal to kgm2s-1, wherein the meter and the other are defined as c and ΔνCs.
Planck's constant is a phenomenon in quantum mechanics, which allows the mass to be connected to electromagnetic energy. It is one of the smallest measures of the physical world and it is found – for measurement – it was a big challenge. The journey lasted for decades and involved a machine, known as the Kibble Balance, which is trying to equate not with mass, but with energy.
"In our journey we will find ourselves at a crucial moment," said Dr. Barry Inglis, Chief Executive Officer of the National Measurement Institution of Australia.
"After years of research, a major revision of the SI can now be justified. This decision will, if adopted, be an important scientific achievement."
The most important thing for a kilogram is Planck's constant also: constant. Unlike Le Grand K, in 129 years it will not be different from 50 micrograms. This means that a kilogram can always be connected to it – and no matter how far we walk around the universe, the Planck constant is expected to remain the same. It will also be a kilogram.
And if all of this still confuses you, it's too long, it's not easy to read it, everything is quite simple: after decades of hard work and hypothesis scientists – these ingenious men and women have found a way to determine a kilogram based on the universal truth.
From Friday on, the kilogram always weighs a kilogram.
The conference will also present the votes to change the definition of ampere, brittle and kelvin. If you're interested, you can watch an event changing the world on YouTube.
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