back to article World needs 252,288,000 seconds to decide fate of leap seconds

The International Telecommunications Union's (ITU's) debate on the future of leap seconds has decided a decision on the matter can wait for 252,288,000 seconds. The ITU's World Radiocommunication Conferences kicked off back on November 2nd and leap seconds were one item on the agenda because of international worries that the …

  1. Graham Marsden

    All irregularities...

    ... will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension.

    Transuranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life...

    1. John Savard

      Re: All irregularities...

      How on Earth are we going to get a handle on global warming, then, if we can't (carefully) use Uranium, Plutonium, and Thorium?

      Furthermore, since when were Jet, Diamond, and Sapphire elements - and isn't Radium another deadly radioactive element that doesn't mix well with life? And anyways how will we get irradiated simply because your interdimensional agent from UNCLE is named after a heavy element?

      It may have been a very entertaining television show, but compacting such a high level of scientific illiteracy into the few words of the opening voice-over would not seem like a good sign. Still, it makes one think of a nice shiny wristwatch... just don't forget the chromium, so the steel won't rust. Of course, steel isn't an element either; iron is. See?

  2. Steven Roper

    Why the high degree of granularity?

    Why not just let the extra seconds accumulate until they amount to an hour, then we just knock an hour off or add it to the time as required, like we do with Daylight Savings?

    If the slowing of the Earth's rotation is proceeding at a constant rate, then that hour should be predictable enough to be able to program it into timekeeping systems, the way our computers recognise Daylight Savings and adjust the time automatically when it occurs.

    Given that the rate of slowing is also very slight, we'd only need to do this every couple of decades or so in any event.

    I'm sure there's scientific reasons for doing it as we do, relating to the timing of events and phenomena, but for that we could use a clock based on, say, seconds elapsed since the Big Bang, without worrying about other time periods like days or months or years.

    OK, we don't know the age of the universe to that level of precision, but we could allocate an arbitrary value to run with until we do. We currently reckon the age of the universe at 13.82 billion years, based on observations by the Planck spacecraft.

    For example, we could say this is the year 13,820,002,015 After Big Bang (ABB), at epoch 2000 AD there were 31,558,149.504 seconds per year, so Jan 1 2015 AD translates to 436,133,689,734,951,250.56 seconds ABB. Then scientists can take their time on that basis without having to worry about the slowing rotation of the Earth or other orbital anomalies.

    Obviously, as our observation of the age of the universe becomes more precise, we can then update the scientific calendar as required.

    Meanwhile the rest of the world, which functions on hours, days, months and years more than it does seconds, can live in peace with only an hour's adjustment every couple of decades or so.

    1. Simon Sharwood, Reg APAC Editor (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Why the high degree of granularity?

      Do you really want to live in a world when things are out by an hour?

      1. John Savard

        Re: Why the high degree of granularity?

        I already do; where I live, it's called Daylight Savings Time, and where you live, it's called Summer Time.

      2. Tom 7

        Do you really want to live in a world when things are out by an hour?

        We're never going to get parliament anywhere near that close to reality.

      3. Alister

        Re: Why the high degree of granularity?

        Do you really want to live in a world when things are out by an hour?

        Exactly! What about lunchtime, or beer o'clock!.

        What we need is for them to take off an hour now, and then gradually add a second for the next few years...

      4. andykb3

        Re: Why the high degree of granularity?

        It would just give my local bus and train companies another excuse for their late services!

      5. Mike Schwab

        Re: Why the high degree of granularity?

        The original design of one hour time zones meant mean solar noon would be up to 1/2 hour from clock noon, if the boundaries were evenly spaced at 15 degree intervals.. Actual initial boundaries had some locations approaching 1 hour. Time zones creeping eastward have resulted in over 1 hour difference. Daylight savings time can bring this up to 2 hours. Then China went from 5 time zones to 1 time zone and you have an international boundary with Afghanistan with a 3 hour time change. By the time we accumulate 3600 seconds for a 1 hour change (about 7000 years), we could just skip the DST change in the appropriate direction, or non-DST locations schedule a time zone change.

    2. DanielN

      Re: Why the high degree of granularity?

      "If the slowing of the Earth's rotation is proceeding at a constant rate, ..."

      Alas, the Earth's rotation depends on its moment of inertia, which changes owing to redistribution of mass: ice caps, glaciers, ground water, hurricanes/cyclones, even vegetation. Leap seconds are simply not predictable. Not even with ironclad predictions for anthropomorphic climate change.

      The question really amounts to whether to run commerce on sunrise or on a steady clock. I vote for a steady clock. The few things that need actual sunrise times are already looking it up in a table. It's no great difficulty for them to change the table every few years.

      Frankly the issue is above the pay grade of the standards organizations. Interested parties should convince a major legal jurisdiction like the U.S. to do business on steady time, and everyone would happily delete the leap second code. (The U.S. is a good candidate for the change because the Constitution already lets Congress set weights and measures. The measurement of wall clock time is not much of a legal stretch.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why the high degree of granularity?

        The rest of the world seems happy to use metric units and sensible paper sizes despite the USA doing things differently. I could imagine the same thing might happen with the definition of time. But I don't think we should encourage it.

    3. jonathanb Silver badge

      Re: Why the high degree of granularity?

      Our current calendar counts forward from when Jesus was born. We are about 6 years out with that[1], and nobody has bothered to change it, so what are the chances of anyone updating for more accurate information about the Big Bang?

      [1] The Bible says he was born during the reign of King Herod, and King Herod died in 4BC.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why the high degree of granularity?

        Our current calendar counts forward from when Jesus was born.

        Well, if you're counting away from a specific event, then leap seconds shouldn't be used.

        (Incidentally, fancy him being born born on christmas day - his birthday being over-shadowed)

        1. jonathanb Silver badge

          Re: Why the high degree of granularity?

          He wasn't born on Christmas day, he was born in the spring - lambing season in that part of the world. We appropriated the Pagan Winter Solstice Festival as a celebration of his birth because we reckoned that telling people to stop having celebrations on that day wouldn't be very popular.

  3. sla29970

    misclassified as science

    The issue of leap seconds has never been a scientific nor technical issue. We have known and agreed how to measure calendar days by watching the earth rotate for most of history; we have known and agreed how to measure SI seconds by watching cesium atoms for a lifetime. The issue here is whether a single scheme being used in radio broadcast time signals will try to satisfy both goals, or whether the broadcast signals will abandon any connection with the count of calendar days. Changing the calendar is something emperors and popes had trouble doing, so no surprise from the ITU-R. This is a diplomatic standoff.

  4. Kevin 6

    With all the problems plaguing the planet they are wasting time on this?

    Ohh wow some clock will be off a minute in almost 200 years I'm sure life will come to a collapse due to that.

    1. Yes Me Silver badge

      @Kevin 6 (wasting time?)

      > some clock will be off a minute in almost 200 years

      True, it's less of an issue than if Stonehenge needed to be slightly rotated to reconcile it with a caesium clock. But given that high frequency trading already means that stock transactions have to be logged to within a few milliseconds, it isn't an issue that can be ducked. Not having international consensus would suck.

      Just hope we get it settled before the NTP rollover in 2036 and the Unix clock rollover in 2038.

      1. Tom 7

        Re: @Kevin 6 (wasting time?)

        High frequency trading? I doubt we should change the way the world works just for that - they can sort their own agreements out like they do now.

        This is merely an argument between two versions of OCD. No one is going to win and it wont go away now its up for discussion.

        1. Dadmin

          Re: @Kevin 6 (wasting time?)

          That is a marginal example. Consider that modern communication, financial transactions down to the level of you at an ATM or POS system, satellite comms, navigation systems for all sorts of craft doing business or just flying and sailing about, and a host of other systems all dependent on the time being accurate for normal operations, and more importantly, that other systems they communicate with or depend on using the exact same time as a reference. This is not the Y2K, my time is missing some extra most-signifcant bits, this is; we just did a transaction but you are showing a different time; abort, retry, ignore, help, what is this thing you hu-mans call kissing? Stock trading is a mildly useful, but nonetheless uninteresting example, as most stock trading is nothing more than what other lemmings do with their bits of value. How about the aircraft your taking your holiday in now has to be manually landed because the time of the ground-station is off or GPS time is not matching aircraft computer system time, as an example? Or, your xmas gifts are not being delivered because the credit card transactions were off in time and the system has to be shut down for a day during the busy holiday season for a software eval and the failover system uses the same time reference? Time is pretty important to everyday commerce, communications, and shipping, just to name a few.

          1. swm

            Re: @Kevin 6 (wasting time?)

            GPS doesn't use leap seconds. They are drifting with respect to UTC. Currently there is an offset of 17 second to worry about when doing a conversion from GPS to UTC. GPS is time is currently week 1872 and 178711 seconds and counting. The satellites do indicate the leap second offset but this is not needed for determining location. GPS satellites also need to be aware of relativistic corrections due to their altitude and (I think) frame dragging. TAI is always 19 seconds ahead of GPS time.

            You wouldn't believe what windows XP time is!

            Check out

        2. jonathanb Silver badge

          Re: @Kevin 6 (wasting time?)

          Financial institutions generally take GPS time as their reference point and adjust that to local time or GMT.

  5. Gene Cash Silver badge

    If they really wanted to improve life

    They'd stop that daylight "saving" crap.

  6. Velv

    Time... an illusion.

    Lunchtime doubly so.

    1. Mark 85

      Re: Time...

      So when is beer o'clock if time is an illusion? Maybe beer o'clock should be "anytime"?

      1. Martin Budden Silver badge

        Re: Time...

        Maybe beer o'clock should be "anytime"?

        It is in my house. Cheers!

  7. Arthur the cat Silver badge


    the slowing rotation of the earth means that readers' descendants may end up out of synch with reality

    What we need is the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service to live up to their name. Get pedalling, dammit!

  8. BearishTendencies

    re: the slowing rotation of the earth...

    ... means that readers' descendants may end up out of synch with reality

    Judging by the actions of my contemporaries (esp management), I suspect humankind has long since detached itself from said reality

  9. Martin Budden Silver badge

    Why not have both?

    We are on the verge of a significant milestone in human history: within a lifetime we'll be colonising other worlds. Earth time will be meaningless in those other places, each world will require its own time system dependent on the rotation of that world. We'll also need a "universal" (pun intended) time which remains constant so we can do sciency&financial stuff.

    This debate on leap seconds gives us the perfect opportunity to switch to multiple systems, with the first two being Earth Time (based on Earth's rotation so that 12pm is always when the sun is overhead, and a new Universal Time (based on the most accurate atomic clocks available) (not the same as the current UTC, please note!).

    We also have the opportunity to make the new Universal Time metric. Because metric is sensible.

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