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Leap Seconds: Our Minute Might Soon Be Shortened to 59 Seconds

by Vrinda Jain

Leap Seconds: Our Minute Might Soon Be Shortened to 59 Seconds

January 14, 2021

Nothing in life is absolute — some may say they have a lot of time while others say they are running out of time.

Time may hold different meanings for each individual. But what if your time was shortened?

We may not count each second in our everyday life, but the precision of seconds and milliseconds is of utmost significance for scientists. Scientists now have a new suggestion — to shorten one minute to just 59 seconds, for one negative leap that will help better line up with the earth’s real rotation. This comes in the wake of a year marked by several shorter-than-average days, after many years of the planet’s quicker process than maybe ever before.

Leap-Second-scoolbuzz
One more second added to Indian Standard Time

Why Does Our Time Have Variations?

One might wonder why any real difference is made by tiny portions of individual seconds. For most individuals, the fact is they don’t. But, for scientists and specially tuned research instruments, this time make a lot of difference and holds great importance.

A simple thing like a clock sets itself and “sheds” the extra or missing partial second every midnight to distract from necessary function research or regulation. Data indicates that our former daily rotation of 24 hours is gradually declining, making the day slightly shorter. According to TimeAndDate.com, the earlier Sunday lasted for 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59.9998927 seconds.

And while the rotation rate of the planet may speed up or slow down slightly from day to day, astronomical calendar patterns suggest that recent years have become shorter overall due to natural terrestrial and celestial alterations. With an average daily deficit of 0.5 milliseconds, 2020 beat 2005’s shortest day by 28 times, and 2021 is expected to be around 19 milliseconds short of a typical year.

Earthrotation-scoolbuzz-space
Variation of daylength throughout 2020. The length of day is shown as the difference in milliseconds (ms) between the Earth's rotation and 86,400 seconds.

Earth's Rotation

The day length might have varied throughout the year 2020. The day’s size is shown as the difference in milliseconds (ms) between the earth’s rotation and 86,400 seconds. The Paris-based International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service are credited for declaring the world’s expected leap seconds. 

However, some argue that adding and removing seconds to the right time may create more uncertainty than good. The New York Times reported that saving up fractions of a leap second has its consequences.  When a leap second was added in 2012, internet sites like Reddit, Linkedin, and Yelp faced server crashes. Linux operating systems and JavaScript were also disturbed. Part of that is because most programming languages have essential timekeeping, based on the computers themselves on primitive clock hardware.

Computers have to ping global timekeeping servers for accurate “real-time” regulations, but these serve up tiny corrections instead of entire seconds. When the computer clock suddenly has to believe that it’s 12:00:00 for the second in a row, and data moves at a rate of millions or billions of bytes per second through the CPU, which creates an utter conflict.

Why Does Earth Spin Differently?

The world is influenced by forces that converge from anything — from the moon to the sun, and variables such as the shape of the earth to tides’ movement. At least for now, this complex formula is tilting toward shorter days. But a slower twist is the general pattern in recent decades, which means adjusting the leap-second policy cuts in both ways: adding and subtracting a second, depending on the year.

The topic of leap seconds is controversial since some scientists think it is easier to change the microsecond discrepancy of each day only. But a regulatory body can help determine what to do next, as is the case in all scientifically regulated norms and measures. Time investigators will meet in 2023, in this case, to duke it out.

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