Leap Seconds into a New Year

Happy New Year!

As rowers we know that seconds really do count, but did you notice that 2016 was a bit longer? Maybe just a little, like one second longer?

Well it was. One tiny second longer that is. The countdown to the New Year last night had an added second due to the Earth slowing down rotation and getting out of sequence with the almighty atomic clocks that keep precise time. Horologists at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in London compensate for the difference with a “leap second” added just after 23:59:59 last night to even things out. NPL invented atomic time as a way to be more accurate and predictable than using the Earth’s rotation to track time. In France, the International Earth Rotation and Reference System Service (IERS) at the Paris Observatory determines when to use a leap second giving the world a six month advance notice to ready time keeping devices, clocks and computers. 

At first I thought it’s just one second, but last night was the 27th time NPL has used a leap second. The last time was June 2015. Senior Research Scientist Peter Whibberly of NPL explains that “Leap seconds are needed to prevent civil time from drifting away from Earth time. Although the drift is small, taking around 1,000 years to accumulate a one hour difference, if not corrected it would eventually result in clocks showing midday before sunrise.”

And so it goes, seconds really do count. 



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