Scientists don’t want to count leap seconds, so they leave


If your dog recently barked at the moon or you saw two very similar cats walk by one after the other, it probably had something to do with the deletion of leap seconds. Or not.

A global consortium of scientists and government officials voted Friday to stop turning the little proverbial knob that keeps track of leap seconds, that minute-time adjustment sometimes inserted to account for our planet’s uneven rotation.

Because we don’t have Superman available to spin the planet to our liking, the Earth sometimes shifts and wobbles like a drunk man taking a sobriety test outside his car. This slight fluctuation in symmetry throws off the speed of Earth’s rotation barely enough that the days are a little longer than what we have on the books.

The leap second came into existence in 1972, as a way to balance Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) approximately every 21 months. This isn’t a change anyone would necessarily have felt (except maybe Dr. Manhattan), but what it did was stay in the clutches of tech companies, as the inconsistent coordination confused the coding that had been created with an assumption of accurate timekeeping.

The problems piled up. Reddit briefly crashed in 2012 due to a leap second, Cloudfare blamed the bad leap second on 2017’s DNS going down on New Year’s Day, and recently Meta published an article calling for leap seconds to get the heave-ho.

The International Bureau of Weights and Measures seems to have agreed at their presumably arranged meeting in Versailles, France. Leap seconds have been informed that between 2035 and at least 2135 (perhaps on a Wednesday), UTC does not account for leap seconds, with the idea that scientists will have found a better way to resolve the discrepancies by then.

That’s right, an official timekeeping organization basically just said, “We’ll take care of that later.”

Source: New York Times

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