Kilogram 'Losing Weight'
The 118-year-old cylinder that is the international prototype for the metric mass, kept tightly under lock and key outside Paris, is mysteriously losing weight -- if ever so slightly. Physicist Richard Davis of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Sevres, southwest of Paris, says the reference kilo appears to have lost 50 micrograms compared with the average of dozens of copies.
"The mystery is that they were all made of the same material, and many were made at the same time and kept under the same conditions, and yet the masses among them are slowly drifting apart," he said. "We don't really have a good hypothesis for it."
But don't expect the slimmed-down kilo to have any effect, other than possibly envy, on wary waistline-watchers: 50 micrograms is roughly equivalent to the weight of a fingerprint.
"For the lay person, it won't mean anything," said Davis. "The kilogram will stay the kilogram, and the weights you have in a weight set will all still be correct."
One of the leading alternatives for a 21st-century kilogram is a sphere made out of a Silicon-28 isotope crystal, which would involve a single type of atom and have a fixed mass. "We could obviously use a better definition," Davis said.
Tags: Kilogram | Metric Mass | Prototype | Weight