Leap seconds have been giving us problems for a long time. The idea seemed good to synchronize the clocks we use to measure time with the Earth’s rotation, but in the days of the internet that has become a major annoyance. Now the big tech companies want to kill him.
Why do we have leap seconds?. As Wikipedia indicates, a second is defined as 1/86400 of a mean solar day, and this is determined by the rotation of the Earth on its axis and its orbit around the Sun. The problem is that time is measured with stable atomic clocks (International Atomic Time or TAI), but the Earth’s rotation has been slowing down. The solar day has been getting longer, at a rate of 1.7 ms every century.
Wait I have a second left. Since 1972 the authorities that regulate the measurement of time have added a leap second 27 times to that global clock called TAI. On those occasions, instead of going from 23:59:59 to 00:00:00, the clock indicated 23:59:60. That ends up being a problem for our computers, which connect to very exact time servers to schedule activities in an exact sequence.
Small momentary catastrophes. That adjustment has caused many problems in the past. In 2012 the airline Quantas saw its reservation system affected, and both Reddit and Mozilla had serious problems. Many websites became inaccessible while their servers were restarting, and in 2017 the same thing happened again with an issue at Cloudflare.
The Big Techs are fed up. Google, Microsoft, Meta and Amazon have started a movement to remove the leap second. His arguments have already convinced the NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) and the BIPM (Bureau International de Poids et Mesures). Putting that leap second every so often makes no sense, they say, so it’s better to remove it.
Speed up or slow down clocks as an optionon. In Meta they talked about the problem and possible solutions such as ‘smearing’ which would consist of slowing down or speeding up the clocks, but in the end the best thing, they say, would be to get the leap second out of the way.
Removing it would not be so serious either. Ahmad Byagowi, a researcher at this company, explained to CNET how “we predict that if we stick to the TAI without observing leap seconds, we should be fine for at least 2,000 years.”
Image | Andrew Langfield
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