Every four years, we add a leap day to compensate for the fact that the Earth takes a little longer than a calendar year to make a complete orbit around the sun. Without them, we’d eventually have snow in the middle of June.
Well, to compensate for an unexpected slowdown in the Earth’s rotation this year, scientists have decided to add an extra second to 2016 to help keep us in sync.
The National Physical Laboratory in the United Kingdom uses an atomic clock to provide a stable and continuous timescale for the world’s less accurate clocks to follow. And they need to add the extra second to the New Year’s countdown because standard time is currently lagging behind atomic clocks.
So as the clocks strike midnight tomorrow, they’ll show a time of 23:59:60 at the very end, delaying 2017 for a second.
NPL senior research scientist Peter Whibberley explained:
“Atomic clocks are more than a million times better at keeping time than the rotation of the Earth, which fluctuates unpredictably.”
“Leap seconds are needed to prevent civil time drifting away from Earth time.”
“Although the drift is small – taking around 1,000 years to accumulate a one-hour difference – if not corrected it would eventually result in clocks showing midday before sunrise.”
The problem? 2016 has been kind of a terrible year, so people aren’t too happy about having to sit through another second it.
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