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The Universe Might Have a Fundamental Clock That Ticks Very, Very Fast

In physics, time is typically thought of as a fourth dimension. But some physicists have speculated that time may be the result of a physical process, like the ticking of a built-in clock. If the universe does have a fundamental clock, it must tick faster than a billion trillion trillion times per second, according to a theoretical study published June 19 in Physical Review Letters. In particle physics, tiny fundamental particles can attain properties by interactions with other particles or fields. Particles acquire mass, for example, by interacting with the Higgs field, a sort of molasses that pervades all of space. Perhaps particles could experience time by interacting with a similar type of field, says physicist Martin Bojowald of Penn State. That field could oscillate, with each cycle serving as a regular tick. “It’s really just like what we do with our clocks,” says Bojowald, a co-author of the study.

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