July 2, 2012
Hiccup In Space-Time Continuum Brings Chaos To Internet
John Neumann for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Did you find some of your favorite websites acting wonky this weekend? If so, you may want to blame the omniscient keepers of all knowledge for that. No, not the galaxy-sized blue-skinned creatures that keep the universe in balance, but the big brains at the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS), who monitor the gaps between atomic and planetary time and work to keep everything synced.
As such, these brilliant minds are responsible for issuing edicts to add these leap seconds.
According to Daniel Gambis, head of the IERS, the Earth is far from consistent in its rotations and its movements around the sun. “We want to have both times close together and it´s not possible to adjust the earth´s rotation,” Reuters reports.
This miracle addition of time actually occurs with some regularity. In fact, the IERS issues bulletins for these leap seconds, complete with directions on how to add the time.
According to their site, “Leap seconds can be introduced in UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) at the end of the months of December or June, depending on the evolution of UT1-TAI. Bulletin C is mailed every six months, either to announce a time step in UTC, or to confirm that there will be no time step at the next possible date.”
Leap seconds have been added every few years since the 1970s, though they have become infrequent lately, despite the Earth´s irregular motions due to recent earthquakes and tsunamis.
So what happened around the internet that kept Twitter, atwitter?
Gawker Media, Reddit and LinkedIn fell silent for a while. StumbleUpon, Yelp, FourSquare, LinkedIn, and Meetup were also among the sites affected for some time, writes Summer Anne Burton for BuzzFeed.
More than an oddity, these leap seconds can be crucial to devices and technologies which depend on the most accurate time. Banking computers, international air traffic systems and even the world wide web run on UTC.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) – the UN agency which regulates international standards – even heard arguments earlier this year to abandon the use of these leap seconds. In the end, they delayed the decision. Those who oppose the leap seconds say changing the world´s clocks and computers is a costly and time consuming practice.
While the decision to abandon the leap second isn´t incredibly urgent, it will continue to be a point of contention against those who depend on the most accurate time.
As of Monday morning, most of the affected sites had found fixes and were back up and running. Next time this happens it could have worse consequences, Facebook and Twitter might be affected and then we may have to, heaven forbid, talk to another person face to face.
Let us pray that the IERS gets its act together before that comes to pass.