Scientists propose 'leap hour' to fix time system

World timekeeping experts propose a "leap hour" every 600 years rather than an extra second every few years.
Scientists propose 'leap hour' to fix time system

LONDON: New Year will arrive a second late this year, the 24th time since 1972, when time across the globe is adjusted to account for changes in the Earth's rotation.

The leap second will be added on to the final minute of 2008 because the planet is gradually slowing down as it spins on its axis.

The tweak will help correct the time-lag which shows up on ultra-accurate atomic clocks.

But the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which manages leap seconds, is proposing to abolish them in favour of the leap hour.

Over hundreds of years, the universal time zone - a modern version of Greenwich Mean Time - would gradually drift east from Greenwich, reaching Paris before the "leap hour" moved it back west again. Such a move would see GMT lose its status as the zone in which local time is the same as the universal time by which clocks are set.

The proposed change, reported in New Scientist magazine, would mean Britain would have legal issues to contend with as GMT has been enshrined in law since 1880 as the standard by which national time is calculated.

Britain and China oppose the change but it is backed by the US, France, Germany, Russia, Japan and Italy.

A spokesman for the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills said: "The UK remains strongly opposed to any proposal to cease the addition of leap seconds to UTC."

If change does happen, leap seconds will continue to be added as necessary until about 2018. A "leap hour" would then be added, probably around the year 2600.

Markus Kuhn, a computer scientist at the University of Cambridge, said: "Gradually nibbling away a second at a time isn't that disruptive, and there is a distinct lack of scare stories about bad consequences.

"A leap hour would be a project of gigantic proportions, like the move from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. That took a few years until it was accepted worldwide, and there was a Pope with the authority to enforce it. I'm very sceptical something that big could happen again."

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The New Indian Express