The leap second’s time is up: world votes to stop pausing clocks

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INTRO: The practice of adding ‘leap seconds’ to official clocks to keep them in sync with Earth’s rotation will be put on hold from 2035, the world’s foremost metrology body has decided.

The decision was made by representatives from governments worldwide at the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM) outside Paris on 18 November. It means that from 2035, or possibly earlier, astronomical time (known as UT1) will be allowed to diverge by more than one second from coordinated universal time (UTC), which is based on the steady tick of atomic clocks. Since 1972, whenever the two time systems have drifted apart by more than 0.9 seconds, a leap second has been added.

Stopping the adjustments is “a leap forward” for researchers who work on time and frequency, says Georgette Macdonald, director general of the Metrology Research Centre in Halifax, Canada. “I’m pleased their efforts got us to this moment.”

Leap seconds aren’t predictable, because they depend on to Earth’s natural rotation. They disrupt systems based on precise timekeeping, Macdonald says, and can wreak havoc in the digital age. Facebook’s parent company, Meta, and Google are among the tech companies that have called for leap seconds to be scrapped.

The CGPM — which also oversees the international system of units (SI) — has proposed that no leap second should be added for at least a century, allowing UT1 and UTC to slide out of sync by about 1 minute. But it plans to consult with other international organizations and decide by 2026 on what upper limit, if any, to put on how much they be allowed to diverge... (MORE - details)

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