When A Kilogram Doesn't Weigh A Kilogram

March 9, 2011

It seems that the only things you can count on are death and taxes. Even the international prototype of the kilogram isn't reliable.

According to a New York Times article, folks at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures have discovered that the prototype weighs less than it did when it was manufactured in the 19th century. Adding more to the mystery, the prototype has been kept under lock and key since 1889 and in order to open the secure vault, three keys are needed (each key is held by a different person.)

It seems that the only things you can count on are death and taxes. Even the international prototype of the kilogram isn't reliable.

According to a New York Times article, folks at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures have discovered that the prototype weighs less than it did when it was manufactured in the 19th century. Adding more to the mystery, the prototype has been kept under lock and key since 1889 and in order to open the secure vault, three keys are needed (each key is held by a different person.)

There are several official copies of the prototype. When the original was compared with one of the copies the discrepancy was revealed. So what's going to happen now? Will the universe as we know it cease to exist? Has everything we've learned and taken to heart as the truth suddenly become null and void? Will we all wake up tomorrow in an alternate galaxy?

Nope.

This news just means that how we measure a kilogram will have to be based on more exact science. It's no big deal – after all, the official prototype for the meter was retired in 1960. And in 1983 scientists once again redefined how to measure a meter. A meter is officially "the length of the path traveled by light in a vacuum during a time interval of 1/299,792,458 of a second." No way to misinterpret that.

The New York Times article notes that the kilogram will undergo a similar makeover when a draft will be considered at the General Conference of Weights and Measures in October. Also included in the draft are requests for new definitions of the ampere, the mole and the candela.

In light of this news, do you think it's time to review your standards of measure to ensure you're processing precisely what you should be?

Traci Purdum
Senior Digital Editor

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