Monday, September 8, 2008

Your Opinion Needed On Leap Seconds

Are you a network engineer?

Or perhaps a broadcast engineer for a radio or television station?

Is keeping track of accurate time a vital element of your responsibilities?

If so, the U.S. Naval Observatory is conducting a survey asking if you think they should continue with the "leap second" program.

For those of you not geeky enough to keep up with such matters, ever since we have had hyper-accurate, atomic-based time pieces we have had one nasty problem in the fact that, due to the tidal drag of the moon, the length of the day is slowly getting longer.

In order to keep UT1 (the time that the Earth itself keeps) in line with UTC (the time that the atomic clocks keep), a "leap second" is inserted every few years.

Some think they ought to just let UTC drift away from UT1 so less work will be required at maintaining various computer systems. I'm guessing they're thinking maybe every few centuries we should just add a "leap hour" much as we switch back and forth between "Standard" and "Daylight Savings" time.

Of course there are some issues with doing it that way - ocean-going navigators without GPS not only require 1-second accuracy but 0.1! second accuracy, so there are "double ticks" in the WWV time signal to give 0.1 second accuracy. The other problem of course is that if we wait until we need to add an entire hour, in December and January the sun will be setting at 4 in the afternoon in Cincinnati.

My vote - we keep the leap seconds.


At September 8, 2008 at 11:17 PM, Blogger The Dean of Cincinnati said...

Recommended reading:

Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything, by James Gleick


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