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Pendulum Clocks Mystery Solved

Two pendulum clocks hanging on the same wall will eventually swing in sync.

A team of researchers at the University of Lisbon, in Portugal, have deemed the pendulum clocks mystery solved, an enigma that has raised questions for the past 350 years. For a few centuries, there have been observations and theories on how two different pendulum clocks can properly synchronize with each other with no outward influence.

It had been a prevailing theory that this ‘communication’ was due to air currents and a mysterious energy transmitted through beams that was just short of being called ‘magic’. However, a team of two scientists have determined that the answer lies in sound waves.

In the 17th century, pendulum clock inventor and physicist, Christiaan Huygens noticed that when placed on the same wall, two different clocks were in perfect synchronization with each other’s’ ‘ticks’. Fascinated by the occurrence, he took them down and reset them at different intervals, only to observe 30 min later that they synchronized themselves back up.

Huygens then dedicated his time to resolving the mystery of why, but was unable to come up with an answer during his lifetime, and a couple of other lifetimes after him. It took over 300 years before the Portuguese scientists unraveled the mystery.

Through proper investigation and use of very accurate sensors, the researchers noted that the pendulum swings create sound waves that go through the beam, the wall and then pulse into the other clock. And the energy sent is so minimal that it would be almost next to impossible to notice.

A pendulum clock  produces two ticks in each direction it swings, and with each one, the sound waves inch closer and closer to affecting the other mechanism hanging on the same wall. It’s slow and subtle, but each minuscule impact affects the other until perfect balance is achieved. Once the ideal synchronization is achieved, the sound waves of the two clocks cancel each other out and remain as they are.

Due to the different types of mechanism and possible materials, it might not take the same amount of time for every clock, but whether it takes half an hour or several hours, the pendulums will eventually synchronize and swing in opposite directions of each other.

The researchers, Dr. Henrique Oliveira and Dr. Luis Melo, claim that this basic principle might apply to a majority of sciences, such as economy or biology, comparing the swings of two pendulum clocks to the beats of a heart. So, perhaps, it not necessarily a merely romantic notion that two heartbeats can synchronize over time and beat together.

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