Saturday 3 December 2016

Leap second lives on... for now

Published 19/01/2012 | 20:48

Mobile phone networks could be affected by a decision on the future of the leap second
Mobile phone networks could be affected by a decision on the future of the leap second

The leap second may live on for at least another three years.

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Once or twice a year, the leap second can be tacked on to synchronise atomic clocks - the world's scientific timekeepers - with the Earth's rotational cycle, which does not run quite like clockwork.

Without the leap second, atomic clocks would diverge about a minute a century from the course of the Sun across the sky.

Britain, China, Canada and others have argued to keep it, but the United States, France and other nations have pushed to disconnect machines from the natural cycle because of the technical difficulties and costs to government and business.

Sanjay Acharya, a spokesman for the International Telecommunication Union, said that a decision to abolish the leap second has been put off until next week.

He said "it's been deferred" because government delegates at an ITU meeting were unable to reach agreement at talks this week.

The decision about how much the world needs the leap second affects everything from mobile phone networks to financial markets and air traffic control systems, all of which rely on atomic clocks and would not have to momentarily stop their systems.

A Paris-based agency which tracks the globe's irregular wobble sends notice when the world's timekeepers need to add a leap second.

That is only done on June 30 and December 31, but sometimes years go by without an adjustment - and there has never been the need to subtract a leap second.

Government delegates now plan to examine the issue at a separate meeting in Geneva next week, but Mr Acharya said they will probably defer any formal decision until 2015

Press Association

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