It’s Official: The Leap Second Is Retiring (A Decade From Now)

It is time — or will be, in the year 2035 — to let go of the leap second.

This is how member states voted on the international treaty governing the flag and measurement standards, at a meeting in Versailles, France, on Friday. The near-unanimous vote on what was known as Resolution D was greeted with relief and cheer by the world’s metrologists, some of whom have been pressing for a solution to the leap second problem for decades.

“Unreasonable,” Patricia Tavella, director of the time division at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, better known as BIPM from its French name and based outside Paris, wrote in a WhatsApp message shortly after the vote. “More than 20 years of discussion and now a great agreement.” She added that she was “touched by tears”.

The United States was a staunch supporter of the resolution. “It feels like a historic day,” said Elizabeth Donnelly, chief of time and frequency at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, in Boulder, Colorado.

The leap second has caused problems since its inception 50 years ago. It was conceived as a way to align the international atomic time scale, in use since 1967 and derived from vibrating cesium atoms, with the slightly slower time kept by the Earth as it rotates. In fact, when atomic time is one second ahead, it pauses for a second to allow Earth to catch up. Ten leap seconds were introduced into the atomic time scale when the bullshit was revealed in 1972. Twenty-seven more seconds have been added since then.

Those extra seconds were tricky to enter in 1972; Today, technical issues are thorny. First, it is difficult to predict exactly when the next leap second will be needed, so computing networks cannot prepare for regular, regular insertions. Different networks have developed their own uncoordinated methods of incorporating the extra second.

Furthermore, modern global computing systems are becoming more intertwined and more reliant on hyper-fine timing, sometimes to billionths of a second. Adding the extra second increases the risk of disruption or failure of those systems responsible for communications networks, power transmission, financial transactions, and other vital institutions.

As a result, informal time systems slowly began to replace the world’s official international time, Coordinated Universal Time, or Coordinated Universal Time, and the removal of the leap second is seen as a way to maintain adherence to UTC by making it a continuous time standard instead. . Casual stop.

“The most important issue is maintaining the concept that time is an international quantity,” said Judah Levine, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). He called Versailles’ decision “a wonderful step forward”.

Russia voted against the resolution. Belarus abstained from voting. Russia has long sought to delay the abandonment of the leap second because its GLONASS global navigation satellite system includes the extra seconds, unlike other systems such as GPS, which the United States operates. With Russia’s concerns in mind, the leap second isn’t scheduled to drop until 2035, though it could happen soon.

Resolution D calls for UTC not to be interrupted by leap seconds from 2035 until at least 2135 and for metrologists to finally figure out how to reconcile atomic and sidereal time scales with fewer headaches. The international standard time will be separated from the time as the heavens tell it for generations to come.

Reverend Pavel Gabor, an astrophysicist and deputy director of the Vatican Observatory Research Group in Tucson, Arizona, said returning to those two time scales was inevitable. He said that atomic timekeeping is just one example of how incomprehensible the world has become to the world. an ordinary person, and that scientists have a responsibility to help people feel in control of their lives.

“I think the sensitivity to distrust of elites, distrust of experts, distrust of science and institutions, that’s something that’s a very real problem in today’s world,” he said. “And let us not contribute to it.”

Steps to eliminate the leap second remain. Although the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) is responsible for UTC, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is responsible for transmitting it. The International Telecommunication Union’s World Radiocommunication Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, will also vote on the issue next year. Negotiations between the two organizations convinced her that the ITU would support the Versailles vote, said Felicitas Arias, former director of BIPM’s time division and now a visiting astronomer at the Paris Observatory.

“Now we see the moment really closer to having time going,” she said, praising Friday’s vote. “And this is something we’ve been dreaming about for a very long time.”

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