The Mystery Of 2016 Extra ‘Leap Second’: Why The Leap Second Is So Important

2016 will last a second longer. Yes. You can actually enjoy 2016 for one extra second. Been hearing about the 2016 extra leap second quite a lot? We are sure it still continues to be a mystery for many. What exactly is the leap second? Why is it being added to 2016? Should I adjust my clock? We are sure you have too many questions right now. But by the end of this post, you will know everything about the leap second and why it’s so important.


The Leap Second Explained

You may keep complaining that you never have enough time but Earth has gained a staggering 27 seconds since 1970s. This has been causing headache for timekeepers! A leap second is added to account for the fact that Earth is wobbling and slowing down. Dr. Leon Lobo of London’s National Physics Laboratory says – “Inserting a leap second is necessary because the Earth is wobbling and slowing down and over time that divergence could cause problems”. The gold standard on which the world time currently is based on are the atomic clocks that keep time by measuring the movements of electrons in cesium atoms. Atomic time is therefore constant, but the Earth’s rotation is not.

Earth’s rotation slows by two-thousandths of a second per day because of the braking action of ocean tides caused by gravitational forces of the moon. Leap seconds are therefore necessary to ensure atomic time does not differ from or move away from Earth spin based time. If not corrected at the right time, we will one day see clocks showing 11.50 am at night.

Why The Leap Second Is So Important

If leaps seconds are not added, by 2100 we will see a difference of up to three minutes. This may not seem like much. But consider what happens by 2700. If leap seconds are not accounted for, we will see a staggering 30-minute difference by 2700. It may not matter to human beings per se, but the world today runs on electronic digital systems. Leap seconds are critical for these systems. It can also have implications on space probes. If an error in time occurs on earth, it means an error in Earth rotation for a space probe like Junos, which is orbiting Jupiter right now. This could lead to navigation errors and put the entire mission in jeopardy.

Should I Change My Clocks?

Well, you don’t have to do anything with your clocks. Phones and computers should be able to adjust the clocks on their own. And you don’t really have to bother about other physical clocks, since a one-second difference is too insignificant to even be concerned about.

Leap second had caused problems back in 2012 for Reddit, Instagram, and Netflix. When leap second was added in 2012, Mozilla, Reddit, Yelp, LinkedIn reported crashes. Linux OS and programmes written in Java ran into problems. Google has now developed a special technique to deal with leap seconds. It has been gradually adding milliseconds to its system clocks all these years.

Considering the navigational and communication disruption that the leap second addition brings in, the United States wants to do away with leap seconds but Britain wants to have it. The World Radiocommunication Conference could not arrive at a consensus about the leap second addition and the decision has been deferred until 2023.