December 9, 2008

2008 Gets Longer By One Second

The world's timekeepers are making the year 2008 even longer by adding a leap second to the last day of the year.

The Earth is slowing down, which requires timekeepers to add an extra second to their atomic clocks to keep in sync with Earth's slightly slowing rotation.  So on December 31st at 6:59:59 p.m., an extra second will be added before 7:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

The extra second, plus the extra day on Feb. 29, makes the year 2008 the longest year since 1992.

The decision to add the extra second was made by an international consortium of time keepers and was announced on Monday. Digital technology and world commerce depend on accurate to-the-second timekeeping, said Geoff Chester, spokesman for the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, responsible for one-third of the world's atomic clocks.  

He said that most cellular phone providers and computer operating systems check with the world's atomic clock and update their time to add the leap second automatically.

Leap seconds were started in 1972, sometimes twice a year. This is the first leap second since December 31, 2005.  This is the fourth year to have a leap day and a leap second.

The Naval Observatory will have a party at 6:59:60 p.m.

"We watch the clock and make sure nothing breaks," Chester said. "It's an early New Year's celebration." A brief one.


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