2016 to linger an extra second on New Year's Eve
Fireworks explode over the clock known as 'Big Ben' housed in Elizabeth Tower, to celebrate the New Year in London, Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015. (AP / Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Meredith MacLeod, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, December 30, 2016 11:41AM EST
There are many who can’t wait to see an end to a troubled, turbulent 2016, but international timekeepers will make them hold on a second longer.
It’s taking Earth just a little longer to make its daily rotation, so 2016 will get a leap second on New Year’s Eve to match the planet’s travel with precise atomic clocks. Experts say the moon’s gravitational forces and warmer, denser waters from El Nino are among the reasons it’s taking Earth fractionally longer to circle on its axis each day.
Timekeepers announced in July, that on Dec. 31, at 11:59 p.m. and 59 seconds Coordinated Universal Time (6:59 p.m. Eastern Time, 3:59 p.m. Pacific Time), the next second will become 11:59:60. Ringing in the new year will have to hold on for another second in the United Kingdom, western Europe and parts of Africa.
Leap seconds are fairly common. Since 1972, 26 additional leap seconds have been added at intervals varying from six months to seven years, with the most recent being inserted on June 30, 2015, according to records compiled by the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service.
For those wringing their hands over a year of shocking terror attacks, relentless celebrity deaths and a highly divisive U.S. election, the extra second may be bad news, but it can also wreak havoc with communication and cloud networks and financial systems that rely on precise timing. Machines see the leap second as time going backwards, which can cause system errors and crashes.
Google is tackling the issue by stretching time rather than adding a second.
“No commonly used operating system is able to handle a minute with 61 seconds, and trying to special-case the leap second has caused many problems in the past,” Michael Shields, technical lead of Google’s time team wrote in a blog last month.
“Instead of adding a single extra second to the end of the day, we'll run the clocks 0.0014 per cent slower across the ten hours before and ten hours after the leap second, and ‘smear’ the extra second across these twenty hours. For timekeeping purposes, December 31 will seem like any other day.”