When Seconds Count: Today's UN Debate Could Abolish the 'Leap Second'

Thursday, January 19, 2012 - 14:00 in Physics & Chemistry

Unless you're disputing the world record in the 100-meter dash or a buzzer-beater in basketball, a single second is generally not something worth arguing about. But today in Geneva, a single second will be the topic of intense debate as hundreds of delegates from more than 70 nations decide whether or not to kill the "leap second" at a meeting of the UN's telecommunications agency. Like the day inserted into a leap year to push the calendar back into alignment with the Earth's orbit around the sun, the leap second is inserted into our time scales once every few years to bring our atomic clocks into sync with the astronomical day. Keeping those clocks in sync is crucial. Everything from communications networks to navigation systems to financial trading platforms rely on precision timing. Throw that timing off, even by a second, and problems immediately arise. Related ArticlesDARPA Wants Portable Atomic Clocks for...

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