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A negative leap second may be needed to adjust the Earth's slower rotation

A negative leap second may be needed to adjust the Earth's slower rotation


Leap seconds are added because if the Earth rotates more slowly over millions of years, a minute of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) would need to be 61 seconds for the planet to catch up.

Researchers have found that Earth's slower rotation could mean that Universal Time will have to skip one second for the first time ever.

As climate change worsens, ice caps melt and sea levels rise, the Earth is rotating slowly enough to require a second negative jump, according to a new report. The report was published last week In the scientific journal Nature.

Study author and geophysicist Duncan Agnew found that the need for a leap second, a method used to set atomic clocks, was initially set for 2026 but was pushed back to 2029. But the next leap second is expected to be the first negative leap second rather than an additional second. .

“We don't know how to deal with the loss of one second. That's why meteorologists are worried,” Felicitas Arias, former director of time management at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, said in the report.

Leap seconds are added because if the Earth rotated more slowly over millions of years, a minute of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) would need to be 61 seconds for the planet to catch up.

What is a leap second?

Since 1972, leap seconds have been used to set the official time of atomic clocks with the Earth's unstable rotation speed.

Civil Time is sometimes changed in one-second increments, so “the difference between a uniform time scale determined by atomic clocks does not differ from the Earth's rotation time by more than 0.9 seconds,” the Civil Time report states. United States Navy.

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The last leap second of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) occurred on Dec. 31, 2016, according to the Navy.

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Scientists have voted to end leap seconds

In late 2022, a global committee of scientists and government representatives voted to end leap seconds by 2035.

Many experts said leap seconds have caused complications for computing, and they fear that most computer codes are unable to understand negative seconds, according to the Nature report. Leap seconds cause major malfunctions in computing systems, raising additional concerns about negative malfunctions, said Elizabeth Donnelly, who heads the Time and Frequency Division at the US National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“There is no explanation for this in all the computer code out there,” Donnelly said.

The second negative jump is still pending

The report added that it is still uncertain when or if a negative leap second will occur.

Speculation that this is needed is based on the Earth continuing to rotate at its current rate, according to astrophysicist Christian Bezoard. The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service will determine when the leap second will be introduced.

“We don't know when that means the acceleration will stop and reverse itself,” Bizward said in the report.