Bill P. Godfrey et al

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Leap second madness

The year 2005 will be slightly longer than normal, by about a second. At 23:59:59 tonight, clocks will click over to 23:59:60 followed by 00:00:00. This extra second will happen at the same time all over the world. (For example, on the USA's east coast , the extra second will be inserted at 7PM EST.)

UTC, the standard time system, is based on an atomic clock. UT1 (formally known as GMT) is instead based on the apparant movement of the sun around the earth.

UTC says: "Hey look, 86400 seconds. It must be noon."
UT1 says: "Hey look, the sun is up high. It must be noon."

Ideally, the two would stay synchronised, but the earth wobbles too much. UTC yields to this wobble by inserting or removing seconds so UTC never differs from UT1 by more than 0.9 seconds. The last time this happened was at the end of 1998.

That's one explanation. Another explanation is that liberals want an extra second to hate Bush. That's according to Steve Martin quoting Bill O'Reilly anyway. I've no idea if he really said that as I can't find a primary source. If he did, it sounds like a 56 centiTom remark.

(By the way, I'm sure "an extra second to hate Bush" refers to George W, rather than Kate.)


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