Earth’s Slowing Rotation May Wreck Computers, Prepare for Another ‘Leap Second’

January 8, 2015 Updated: January 8, 2015

On June 30th 2015, an extra second will be added to our clocks. This will be the 26th “leap second” to be added to global time since 1972. Clocks will read 23:59:59 and then venture into uncharted time by displaying 23:59:60 before we move to July 1st. 

The need to add this second comes from the slowing down of Earth’s rotational velocity due to things like earthquakes, weather patterns and tidal forces exerted by other celestial bodies.

The International Earth Rotation and Reference System Service (IERS) in Paris, France keeps a close eye on the differences between atomic clocks and the observed rotational period of our planet. As the spinning speed of earth slows, the discrepancies grow towards 0.9 seconds, at which point they request a extra second to be added to world clocks.

Due to the global reliance on the internet, and its precise time keeping standards, this extra second could cause a lot of digital chaos.

When a second was added in 2012, it caused several websites to experience severe technical difficulties, reddit, foursquare, LinkedIn, and StumbleUpon were among them.

Internet giant Google believes it has discovered a solution that will prevent problems. It will use what has been nicknamed, “leap smear”. This extra second will be added as milliseconds throughout the entire day of June 30th, so by midnight, they will have already accounted for it.

U.S. Opposes Time Change

Global Positioning Satellites (GPS) are maintained by the United State Air Force. GPS systems work using extremely precise time.

Each satellite transmits the exact time down to the surface of the earth. If a GPS device can receive 3 or more signals at the same time, it can use the differences in the arrival of these times to calculate location on the surface of the earth.

The clocks on these satellites must be updated constantly, due to their orbital speed around the earth slowing down the time they experience. If these clocks are not updated by ground command, they will drift from Earth time, and the signals they transmit will be useless.

Any changes to global time is extremely worrisome for the United States as it has such a important job of maintaining the GPS system, which is used by people and businesses around the world.

Without these changes, there would be about an hour difference between atomic time and sunrise/sunset in 200 years.