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Explained: What is a leap second that scientists have agreed to scrap?

Explained: What is a leap second that scientists have agreed to scrap?

Explained: What is a leap second that scientists have agreed to scrap?
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By CNBCTV18.com Nov 23, 2022 6:51:04 PM IST (Published)

A leap second is simply an adjustment of a single second to the UTC. Scientists from across the world have decided to scrap the practice of adding ‘leap seconds’ to official clocks by 2035

Scientists and government representatives from across the world have decided to scrap the practice of adding ‘leap seconds’ to official clocks by 2035  The ad-hoc time adjustment is done to ensure Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) is in sync with Earth’s rotation on its axis. However, the time-keeping alteration has caused difficulties for tech companies. Scientists have agreed to scrap the leap second at the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) in Paris on November 18, Nature reported.

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This means that by 2035 astronomical time as determined by Earth’s rotation will be allowed to diverge by more than one second from UTC.
The decision to scrap the adjustments is “a leap forward” for researchers who work on time and frequency, Nature quoted Georgette Macdonald, director-general of Canada’s Metrology Research Centre, as saying.
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What is a leap second?
A leap second is simply an adjustment of a single second to the UTC. The UTC follows the International Atomic Time (TAI) measured by atomic clocks. Atomic time is different from solar time which is measured by the Earth's rotation. In UTC, a day lasts 86,400 seconds or 24 hours, 60 minutes and 60 seconds. However, the solar day is not always 24 hours.
According to the US space agency NASA, the average time taken by the earth to rotate on its axis is about 86,400.002 seconds. Leap seconds are added every few years to ensure that the UTC is not out of sync with solar time. Generally, a leap second is inserted either on June 30 or December 31.
Since 1972, when it was introduced, a leap second has been added to astronomical time whenever there is a gap of 0.9 seconds between them. Till now, this has occurred 26 times since its inception and the last one was in 2016.
Why is it being scrapped?
One of the primary reasons to abolish the system of synchronising the clocks is that the Earth’s orbit is not precisely predictable. According to NASA, a number of factors affect the length of day and hence the change cannot be pre-programmed.
Further, since 2020, the Earth's rotation has reportedly been speeding up. As a result, in the future, the leap second may have to be removed from UTC rather than added.
Researchers have also said there is no data available to explain anything major happening if the leap second is not added.
Tech companies like Meta demanded leap seconds be ditched. Earlier this year, Meta published a blog post highlighting how the platform Reddit went down for around 40 minutes in 2012 as a result of a new leap second interfering with the company’s servers. In 2017, another company Cloudflare said the leap second had resulted in its DNS service going down on New Year’s Day, precisely at midnight UTC, The Verge reported.
 
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