Leap Second To Be Added To Atomic Clock

By Amir Khan on June 29, 2012 1:08 PM EDT

Clock
It may not be a traditional long weekend, but this coming weekend will be slightly longer than normal -- one second longer to be precise (Photo: Creative Commons)

It may not be a traditional long weekend, but this coming weekend will be slightly longer than normal -- one second longer to be precise.  Scientists will add a "leap second" to the atomic clock on Saturday to keep it in step with the slowing rotation of the Earth.

Atomic clocks are the reference point for all other clocks, since they do not gain or lose time. However, since the Earth's rotation is gradually slowing, scientists must adjust the time on the atomic clock to keep it in step.

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"We want to have both times close together and it's not possible to adjust the earth's rotation," Daniel Gambis, head of the Earth Orientation Centre of the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, told Reuters.

If no adjustments were made clocks would eventually fall out of time with the Earth's rotation, which would lead to the sun setting around noon. Leap seconds have been added every few years to compensate for the slowdown in Earth's rotation from earthquakes, tides and other natural occurrences.  

Some countries have called for the abolishment of the leap second, saying they cause difficulty for systems reliant on precise timekeeping. They also say that predictable timekeeping precludes the need to compensate for Earth's slowing rotation.

However, other countries say that the process works well, and say that before any changes are made, we need to better understand the long-term ramifications.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the U.N. agency responsible for international communications standards, failed to reach a consensus in January about whether to keep the leap-second or not, according to Reuters.

"They decided not to decide anything," Gambis said. He said  they will make another attempt in 2015.

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