Requiem For A Leap Second, An Essay by Bryan Costales

Requiem For A Leap Second
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The world time standard changed in 1972, when Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) was replaced with UTC, which stands for Coordinated Universal Time (yes the C is on the wrong end). GMT was based on Earth's rotation and celestial measurements. Beginning in 1979, UTC became the new standard, and is a based on cesium-beam atomic clocks. The two means of calculating time are slowly drifting apart. GMT is based on Earth's rotation and the Earth's rotation is very gradually slowing.

Fortunately, the two clocks are never more than a second apart because a leap second external link is added to UTC once every few years. That is, every once in a while, the atomic clock is set ahead by one second at midnight on December 31st, Coordinated Universal Time.

But 2005 will be the last time the leap second will ever be used!

The problem is that technology as grown into adulthood and now requires accurate time for many reasons. GPS (the Global Positioning System) for example calculates positions on earth and distances above the earth using the atomic clock. The last time a leap second adjustment was made to the atomic clock, GPS time went hay-wire and required manual adjustment. Many physical processes need to know exact time. The leap second adjustment, for example, is in the middle of the day in Asia and financial problems can arise if stock markets do not close exactly on time. Scientific and financial pressures have born fruit. The leap second adjustment of 2005 will be the last leap second ever.

Because GMT is based on the Earth's rotation and because UTC is based on an atomic clock, and because the Earth's rotation is gradually slowing, GMT and UTC will henceforth slowly drift apart. Just a few seconds at first, but by minutes over the next hundred years.

For this reason, I propose that all people world-wide hold a Requiem for the death of the leap second. To be held precisely at midnight UTC (4:00 pm Pacific Standard Time) December 31st, 2005. All should be silent for exactly that one second and weep exactly one tear.

© 11/5/2005 Bryan Costales

© 2005 Bryan Costales Creative Commons License #Bryan_Costales
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