The leap second will be retired (a decade from now)

Patrizia Tavella
Patrizia Tavella. (Photo: Twitter)
The time has come — or will come, in 2035 — to abandon the leap second.

So voted the member states of the international treaty governing science and measurement standards, at a meeting in Versailles, France, on Friday. The nearly unanimous vote on what was known as “Resolution D” was met with relief and jubilation from the world’s metrologists, some of whom have been pressing for a solution to the leap second problem for decades.اضافة اعلان

“Unbelievable,” Patrizia Tavella, director of the time department of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, known from its French name as BIPM and based outside Paris, wrote in a WhatsApp message shortly after the vote. “More than 20 years of discussion and now a great agreement.”

The US was a firm supporter of the resolution. “It feels like a historic day,” said Elizabeth Donley, chief of the time and frequency division of the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, in Boulder, Colorado.

The leap second has caused trouble since its inception 50 years ago. It was devised to align the international atomic time scale, in use since 1967 and derived from the vibration of cesium atoms, with the slightly slower time that Earth keeps as it rotates. In effect, whenever atomic time is one second ahead, it stops for a second to allow Earth to catch up. Ten leap seconds were inserted into the atomic time scale when the system was unveiled in 1972. Twenty-seven more have been added since.

But modern global computing systems have become more tightly intertwined and more reliant on hyper-precise timing, sometimes to the billionth of a second. Adding the extra second heightens the risk that those systems, which are responsible for telecommunication networks, energy transmission, financial transactions, and other vital enterprises, will crash or fail to synchronize.

“Resolution D” calls for UTC to go uninterrupted by leap seconds from 2035 until at least 2135 and for metrologists to eventually figure out how to reconcile the atomic and astronomical time scales with fewer headaches.

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