As If 2016 Hasn’t Been Bad Enough, We’ll Have a Whole Extra Second to Endure with This Evening’s Leap-Second

"(Really) Big Ben" by Phil Dolby is licensed under CC BY 2.0

2016 will now go down infamously as a harrowing year: Terror attacks. Brexit. Trump. Zika. Police shootings. Syria. Harrambe. Record-breaking weather. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. All our favourite celebrities dying.

Today is New Year’s Eve, finally marking the end of the year. However, we’ll have to endure 2016 for an additional second as tonight at midnight there will be a leap-second.

This New Year’s Eve an additional second will be added to the world’s clocks in order for time to keep in sync with the Earth’s rotation. This isn’t the first leap-second we’ve seen. In fact, it will be the 27th second added since 1972, with the last one only 18-months ago in June 2015.

Immediately before we celebrate the new year clocks will read 23:59:60 as the world pauses for a second.

Dr Leon Lobo, of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) time and frequency group, said: “Most people won’t even notice, although everyone will probably be celebrating New Year a second too early this year.”

“People might also notice problems with mobile phone networks as they work on atomic time and, with the increased traffic on New Year’s Eve, there could be potential issues.”

“Inserting a leap second is necessary because the Earth is wobbling and slowing down and over time that divergence could cause problems.”

The reason for the necessity for leap-seconds is due to a wobble in the way the Earth rotates. Generally, a complete rotation of the Earth signifies one full day (24hours). However, the rotation slows by two thousands of a second per day and therefore, without matching up the clocks and the rotation, our days would eventually be completely out of sync and would show the middle of the day at night.

Whilst it feels relatively inconsequential and would take hundreds of years to be even noticeable, modern-day satellites and navigational system rely on time being consistent with the position of the sun, stars and moon. If not corrected, in about 1,000 years we’d be about an hour out. Therefore, it’s speculated that when the world was populated by dinosaurs a day lasted only 23 hours.

Because leap-seconds are added sporadically it is impossible to pre-implement them into computer systems. Therefore, they often cause systems and script to fail. Communication networks have announced they aren’t certain phone time’s will be correct immediately this evening, with the expected increased traffic on New Year’s Eve adding to their workload.

Google have developed special techniques to avoid disruption for leap-seconds. However, the US wants to scrap them altogether, claiming they cause too much disturbance to precision systems used for navigation and communication. However, the UK opposes the change, saying it’s important in order to maintain the concept of time and the rising and setting of the Sun.

Experts are insisting the concept of leap-seconds is never fully retired. They argue that if stopped, it could never be fully restored. Leap-seconds are easily sporadically accommodated with minimal disruption into worldwide timekeeping systems. However, adding leap-minutes or even leap-hours would be virtually impossible.

The World Radio-communication Conference was due to decide on the future of the leap-second at their meeting in 2015, however, was deferred until 2023.

With 2016 lasting an additional second, does this allow the horror that the year has been to strike one more time, or will we be able to celebrate in peace tonight the end of 2016 and finally the beginning of 2017.


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