Leap Second

Astronomical clock

The Astronomical Clock at the Old Town Hall in Prague, Czech Republic.

You know the phrase ‘Time and tide waits for no man’? Here’s the exception.
Synchronise your watches – because when the clock struck midnight (GMT), it had to do it TWICE. Atomic clocks went from 11:59:59 to 11:59:60, instead of straight to 12:00:00 at midnight, GMT (or today at 9:59am Sydney-time).
Humanity gained a whole extra second. A second second. A Leap Second.

Turns out the earth’s rotation is – very marginally – slowing down due to gravitation and something called “moon drag”. So in order to keep time, we have to tinker with it. And you know what happens when you tinker with anything – sh!t happens.

This Leap Second can cause synchronisation problems in financial systems, stock markets, communications, computerised systems and anything that requires very precise timing.

In fact, when the last Leap Second was added exactly three years ago in 2012, it resulted in websites like Reddit and LinkedIn crashing and servers on Qantas check-ins going down (what’s new, you ask?)…

It is precisely due to the issues this extra second causes in technology that the debate has intensified about whether the change should be made at all.
However, companies like Google are countering this ill-timed problem by adopting a “leap smear” technique. Instead of adding on an entire second at midnight, their engineers will divide this extra second into milliseconds and add these on throughout the day. Fingers crossed!

Astronomical Clock in Prague

B in front of the Astronomical Clock in Prague.

Bet you’re thinking: ‘A second? Why are people making such a big fuss over one measly second?’ To you and me, it may seem irrelevant. A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of event. But to horologists, time is of the essence and every second counts.

There have been 25 occasions since 1971 when a Leap Second was added. They say that if we don’t add on these Leap Seconds every few years, our atomic time will be out of sync with the earth’s rotation.

The question is, what are you going to do with that extra second? 😉


2 responses to “Leap Second

    • Hehe! At least you are true to form, Lorraine. I hope I’m not scolding the kids. I’ve probably doing something mundane like loading the dish washing or hanging out the laundry.


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