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What Will You Do With An Extra Second To The Day?

June 30, 2012

Read a word in a book.

The world’s timekeepers were preparing to adjust their clocks at midnight on Saturday to add an extra second to the day.

If there is something slightly unsettling about the concept of a 61-second minute, that is probably because it inserts an element of cosmic uncertainty into the popular notion of measuring time.

Some governments and scientists do not like the concept of “leap seconds” either – this will be the 25th since the system was introduced in 1972 – but their objections are entirely rational. They argue that these sporadic adjustments to the clock present a potential source of catastrophic failure for the world’s computer networks.

The adjustment is needed to reflect a slowing in the Earth’s rotation which gradually prolongs the solar day. The day has not been exactly 24 hours long since 1820. When dinosaurs roamed the planet, the day was only 23 hours long.

The slowing of the earth did not matter much as long as time was measured in accordance with the average rotation of the Earth relative to other celestial bodies. Modern atomic clocks, however, are based on a consistent signal emitted by electrons within an atom. They are accurate to within about one second in 200 million years.

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