Tuesday, December 30, 2008

COUNTDOWN TO 2009... 5, 4, 3, 2, 1...1...?

Get ready to say goodbye to 2008, a year in which we set things to rights by adding a leap day back in February. Oh, but we’re not done putting ourselves back on track, not quite yet. Before we leave, we have to add a leap second as well, and that happens on December 31st, depending on where you live. Leap seconds are used to keep the atomic clocks in sync with the Earth's rotation. The Earth, in case you hadn’t noticed (don’t feel bad, neither did I) is rotating more slowly these days. Because atomic clocks don’t slow down, adjustments must be made over time. Teensy-weensy (high squeaky voice) little adjustments. It all helps to keep clock-on-the-wall time in helpful agreement with solar time, or as one article I found put it:

Therefore, the leap second adjusts the clocks to ensure that civil time (used by clocks) is as close as possible to mean solar time (the mean sun’s hour angle).

Oh that mean old sun; why can’t it be civil like our earth clocks! Anyway, a necessary leap second will be added to the world’s atomic clocks at 23:59:60 at Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on this December 31st (sometimes leap seconds are added in June, too, although I didn’t really understand that one). This December adjustment will be the 24th leap second added since the first one ever was added in 1972, and the first leap second in three years. The additional second is actually counted as the 61st second of the last minute of the month, and it is written as 23:59:60 (or 11:59:60 PM in 12-hour format). Leap seconds are added at the exact same time all over the world, so the actual local time will depend on your time zone. Only regions in the UTC time zone will add the second just before midnight. For time zones east of UTC, the second will be added the next day (first day in January or July), for time zones west of UTC, the second will be added earlier on the same day as for UTC. If you’re really into the details, here’s a link to a handy CALCULATION chart:

And yes, there is a provision, on paper at least, for a “negative leap second” in case our planet should suddenly start to speed up again, but I think if it does that, we’ll probably have much bigger problems on our hand than matching clocks!

Finally, to all my fellow bloggers wherever you may live on our slowly spinning old world,


Atomic clock photo from Wikimedia Commons
New Years hand from Shutterstock


Lin said...

interesting, what did they do back in the days of solar time as in sun dials? hmm.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Nice post Deb... No matter how you say it or shake it, there's NEVER enough time in our lives. I thought once I retired that I'd have much more time to do what I wanted to do... Yipes!!! I'm busier than before!!!!

Please tell me where December went? I love it this year!!!! ha

Sydney said...

great post Deb Who knew.... and again, how do you know all this stuff!?
thanks for sharing your from you vast and diverse treasure chest of knowledge

Sylvia K said...

Ah, how true! never enough time! So many things to do, to write, to yell -- whatever! But we can enjoy what we have! Thanks for all the info -- poor, tired old world!! Guess it's not just me! Happy New Year, my friend, I'm glad you're a part of my tired, old world!

bobbie said...

Leap second, hmmmm? Verrrry interesting!

Love your New Year fist with a hat! I may steal that to email to a few people.


Ackworth born said...

wow what can we do with that extra second - oops it took me three to say that.

Squirrel said...

so I get an extra (squeaky little) leap second ? sounds good to me. I think about things like daylight savings time and leap year and lunar phases and tides and clocks ticking and I am entertained by thinking about them. now i can add in the leap second.

Kallen305 said...

Very interesting tidbits of info!!

I hope you have a safe and happy 2009 as well.

Anonymous said...

Happy New Years to you to, Deborah. As usual, I didn't know half of that!

Shellmo said...

You are a vast ocean of knowledge! My husband has been trying to explain Mayan calenders and the shadows of the snake sculpture to me recently. I am beginning to doubt my intelligence. Happy New Year!

Poetikat said...

Happiest of New Years to you too Deb. I look forward to getting to know you even better in 2009.


SandyCarlson said...

I will be thinking of you at Coordinated Univesal Time and wondering why UTC is not CUT but nevertheless wishing you every beautiful thing in 2009!

magiceye said...

thanks to the kind souls who do the needful! how awful would it be otherwise!! :)

Heres hoping you and yours have a super 2009!!

Quiet Paths said...

What an interesting post. I had no idea; I assumed that leap day took up all the slack. My wish for you friend, is that all your leap seconds are special ones. Your hours and days equally blessed. Thank you for being a gift to our days.

love, us