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There's never enough time, Ennis!
December 31, 2005 11:57 AM   Subscribe

At 7 PM EST today, 80 cesium-based atomic clocks around the world will stop for precisely one second, to take into account the gradual slowing of the Earth's axial rotation.
posted by Rothko (40 comments total)

 
The clocks aren't going to stop so much as tick an extra second at 23:59:60.
posted by Nelson at 11:59 AM on December 31, 2005


And this is the face they'll use to stop them.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 12:02 PM on December 31, 2005


Wow, that picture's timeless.
posted by Rothko at 12:06 PM on December 31, 2005


Note: It's only okay to mock the disfigured if they're sex offenders.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 12:16 PM on December 31, 2005


No, they won't stop. The second will be added to the time data the clocks output.
posted by orthogonality at 12:16 PM on December 31, 2005


The effect is the same, even if the process is slightly different. Look at a clock without a second hand. Time would seem to "stop" if the minute hand doesn't move for another second.
posted by Rothko at 12:23 PM on December 31, 2005


If the Earth rotation speed slows down, wouldn't it make more sense to recalibrate to atomic clocks instead of adding seconds here and there?
posted by sour cream at 12:25 PM on December 31, 2005


sour cream, are you asking if it would be a good idea to make a variable-length second? No. No, it wouldn't.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 12:32 PM on December 31, 2005


Rothko they're not stoping for one second or anything like that the effect of adding a second is the exact opposite of stopping.
posted by delmoi at 12:37 PM on December 31, 2005


Great! That's an extra second's drinking time! Happy New Year!
posted by Decani at 12:39 PM on December 31, 2005


If the Earth rotation speed slows down, wouldn't it make more sense to recalibrate to atomic clocks instead of adding seconds here and there?

No, because the earth's rotation speed at that level is somewhat random. There's no way to predict when to add seconds, they just have to sort of pay attention to when the sun comes up and adjust when necessary.

In fact, they thought that they were going to have to subtract seconds, so the 'international atomic time' is actually 22 seconds ahead of 'universal time', now it will be 23 seconds ahead. They started at 10 seconds ahead thinking that as the years went on they'd get closer and closer to real time for a while.

Hmm, and now that I think about it, I think rothko was right and I was wrong about adding the second = stopping the clock.

/confused.

Of course, in practice what will happen is the 'seconds' will go all the way up to 60.999..., rather then stopping at 59.999..., like they normally would.
posted by delmoi at 12:41 PM on December 31, 2005


Who is to blame for this? Dumbya or Bill Gates?
posted by Cranberry at 12:48 PM on December 31, 2005


Wait -- could this lead to the earth's core stopping it's spinning? That would be calamitous, and would certainly require a team of adorable experts to bore to the center of the earth and set off nuclear devices!
posted by maxsparber at 12:49 PM on December 31, 2005


Huh? I thought that the earthquake that caused the tsunami speed up the earth's rotation? See here
posted by SirOmega at 12:53 PM on December 31, 2005


i can use the extra sleep.
posted by quonsar at 1:08 PM on December 31, 2005


I guess this thread is as good as any to link to The Long Now Project.
posted by terrapin at 1:08 PM on December 31, 2005


Timekeeping is fascinating and more complex than you'd think. The thing is the earth's rotation isn't constant, and clocks are accurate enough these days that you have to take not only that, but also special and general relativity into account.

So on the one hand we have the conception of time as a perfectly uniform sequence of constant-length seconds (TAI and friends). On the other have we have the conception of time as something that corresponds to where the Sun is in the sky (UT0..UT2 and UTC). They're intended to match up as closely as possible, but they can't be the same because the Sun's apparent motion isn't even. So there's a difference between the two (currently 38 seconds) and when that difference needs to be adjusted, that appears to us as a leap second.

All this is complex enough without getting into civil time (daylight savings) or calendars (trying to match the abovementioned time scales up to the seasons, the fixed stars, and the Moon).
posted by hattifattener at 1:11 PM on December 31, 2005


atomic clock story: when my father was just out of college in the early sixties, he had a job with the Smithsonian travelling around the world with a portable-ish atomic clock (want to talk about hell at airport security?) helping satellite observation stations set their timing devices accurately. Somewhere there is a publicity photo of him holding this thing -- it was in a wooden box and was pretty heavy -- while getting on a plane as a stewardess sets her watch to it, har har.
posted by jessamyn at 1:12 PM on December 31, 2005


I refuse to add the extra second to my home clocks. Let the jackbooted thugs from the U.S. Naval Observatory come break down my door.
posted by languagehat at 1:35 PM on December 31, 2005


jessamyn: Does this job still exist?
posted by phrontist at 1:40 PM on December 31, 2005


i think we shouldn't go messing about with time...it's unseemly...it brought about constant woe (or will bring about woe?...see what i mean?) for star trek officers and enlisted...and for instance NBC, despite ostensibly abandoning its unusual start and end times for thursday programming to futz with TIVOers, still insists on starting ER at 9:59 pm to irk CSI devotees, a move that made me abandon NBC almost entirely (not that ER is in any way worth a thinker's damn, which makes its attempt to possess two time slots simultaneously even more nefarious; for instance, is that terribly boring eternally sad blonde chick with the kid still on there trying to find an MD sugar daddy?); this bodes ill for the only show I watch on NBC, 'my name is earl,' one of the first solid comedies in years (after 'arrested development') and an inspiringly goodhearted one at that (unlike 'arrested development'), which show will this week move to the thursday 9:00 p.m. time slot, which means if I see it again it will be downloaded on some P2P that will probably give my spybot destroyer undue distress, but it's a good show and probably worth it, and jason lee is rather hot i think (and he named his child for a song by my favorite band), but i'm still gonna go with gil grissom with his rather sexy variations of facial hair (though longer beard is a bit better than the closer-shaven gil of the 2005-06 season), but if gil ever goes clean-shaven all bets are off, except for the bet that NBC will never display on my television on a thursday night because they fuck with time
posted by troybob at 1:59 PM on December 31, 2005


there was an american (boo, hiss) proposal (this year) to get rid of these seconds and just have time slowly drift out of step with when the sun comes up. it pissed off a lot of astronomers and i *think* it's been postponed. in theory i should be able to provide lots of links that show you how evil the plan was, but i could never get very excited by it. my apologies to my more caring colleagues.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:18 PM on December 31, 2005


jessamyn: Does this job still exist?

no. computers and time servers do it.
posted by jessamyn at 2:23 PM on December 31, 2005


It's ALL Bush's fault!
posted by HTuttle at 3:01 PM on December 31, 2005


So begins the Rapture.
posted by rob511 at 3:05 PM on December 31, 2005


How could we be so blind?! Before we know it the bank will be robbed of millions of dollars by these two.
posted by mr.dan at 3:22 PM on December 31, 2005


createdigitalmusic is collecting one-second Odes to the Leap Second.
posted by Foosnark at 4:29 PM on December 31, 2005


My son wants to know, jessamyn, how you set an atomic clock. I visualize two Far Side guys with lab coats and thick glasses, one looking at his watch, saying, "NOW!"
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:16 PM on December 31, 2005


andrew cooke, maybe you would be interested in this?
posted by Ritchie at 5:24 PM on December 31, 2005


I saw the extra second actually happen in The Matrix... they called it a "glitch".
posted by rolypolyman at 5:30 PM on December 31, 2005


Let the jackbooted thugs from the U.S. Naval Observatory come break down my door.

They'll send a SEAL platoon to infiltrate your domicile and surreptitiously reset all the clocks....
posted by alumshubby at 5:47 PM on December 31, 2005


What time is it? Well, no one knows for sure.
posted by tapeguy at 7:19 PM on December 31, 2005


I get to live one second longer. Yippee!
posted by Tarn at 7:20 PM on December 31, 2005


Ugh. Like this year wasn't long enough.
posted by maxsparber at 7:24 PM on December 31, 2005


I'm kind of disappointed. I was hoping the camera would swing around while I was in midair and then I'd kick some guy in the face, like in The Matrix.

That didn't happen.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:56 PM on December 31, 2005


We're all doomed!
posted by punishinglemur at 1:36 AM on January 1, 2006


phrontist writes "Does this job still exist?"

jessamyn writes "no. computers and time servers do it."

Jobs very much like it still do. For example: A friend gets to travel around with a hugely massive chunk of cast iron that is very, very, very flat. He uses it to certify that the granite surface plates at machine shops are very, very flat.
posted by Mitheral at 3:41 AM on January 1, 2006


(thanks Ritchie!)
posted by andrew cooke at 4:53 AM on January 1, 2006


This caused the "young", fast spinning, Earth to have a much more pronounced oblate shape.

This sentence made me think that the Earth was at one time shaped like a medieval child given to a monestary as an offering to God. Because that's all that 'oblate' means to people like me. Funny language, English.
posted by Hildegarde at 12:01 PM on January 1, 2006


If they're worried about people confusing the different systems, I'd say the answer is to have UTC for civilians, and something like UNIX time for science and machines.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Awesome at 12:33 PM on January 1, 2006


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