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Time Is Up For Leap Second

The General Conference on Weights and Measures (GCWM) has decided to stop the practice of Leap Second in 2035. A leap second is a one-second adjustment that is occasionally applied to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) in order to accommodate the difference between precise time (International Atomic Time or TAI), as measured by atomic clocks; and imprecise observed solar time (UT1), which varies due to irregularities and long-term slowdown in the Earth’s rotation. Since its introduction in 1972, 27 leap seconds have been added to UTC.

Just as a leap year contains an additional day (to keep the calendar year synchronised with the astronomical year or seasonal year) after an interval of four years, 0.002 seconds are added to the time measurement (or a 24-hour day) in every one and a half years. Since the diurnal motion of the Earth is not constant, leap seconds are not added to a specific day of a specific month of the year (like leap years). Till January 2017, all of leap seconds were inserted at the end of either June 30 or December 31.

During its recent meet, the GCWM, the Supreme Authority of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM, an intergovernmental organisation established in 1875 under the terms of the Metre Convention through which member states act together on matters related to measurement science and measurement standards), decided to abolish the practice of leap second.

To measure something is a natural tendency of human society. Researchers have traced usage of measurement processes in the 6,000-year-old Mesopotamian Civilisation. It is commonly said that science is nothing without measurement. Before the French Revolution, there were 0.2 million measuring systems in use in the Western European country. Once, there was no universal measurement of wine, and the business used to suffer heavy losses because of this. To prevent that loss, the metric system was introduced after the French Revolution. The unit of length in the metric system is metre. Since the International Yard and Pound Agreement of 1959, one foot (0.3048 meters exactly) has been used as a unit of length in the British imperial and US customary systems of measurement.

French scientists had decided that the Earth should be the centre of all measurements (or dimensions). Hence, they defined metre as “one ten-millionth of the distance from the equator to the North Pole“. They reportedly asked two astronomers to survey these measurements. Interestingly, s is considered as the unit of time (or second) in both FPS and CGS methods. The CGS method is comparatively better than the FPS method, as the larger unit is 10 times bigger than the smaller unit in the metric system.

Popularising the metric system, Napoleon Bonaparte, once, said that this system would last forever. He was right. Apart from the US, Myanmar and Liberia, each and every country in the world is now using the metric system. However, the old method is in operation only to measure time (or second), as people still rely on the Sexagesimal Numeral System, with 60 as its base. Interestingly, France had introduced the metric system to measure time, too! As per the system, there were 10 days in a week, 100 minutes in an hour, and 100 seconds in a minute. Later, France returned to the old hours-minutes-seconds system, as French people did not accept the metric system to measure time.

The US, too, had to pay a heavy price for rejecting the metric system. The Mars Climate Orbiter had crashed into Martian soil in 1999, because one team of scientists was working on the CGS system, while another on the FPS.

Until now, a second is measured on the basis of atomic frequencies. The GCWM has decided to abolish the practice of leap second, in order to measure time based on atomic frequencies, instead of the diurnal motion of the Earth.

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