Time Itself Is About to Be Unhinged

The international body that controls decisions over how to count time may decouple atomic clocks from the movement of the Earth around the Sun. That could mean problems down the line.

What's the Latest Development?


The international body that controls decisions over how to count time may decouple atomic clocks from the Earth's rotation of the Sun by abolishing leap seconds. Currently, leap seconds are added to atomic clocks every so often, just before midnight, due to irregularities in the Earth's movement, making it one second before midnight twice. The International Telecommunication Union will convene this week in Geneva, Switzerland, to decide whether to make time an entirely abstract phenomenon.

What's the Big Idea?

Whether time remains tethered to physical events or not, some difficulties may be ahead. America's Global Positioning System satellites do not add leap seconds, nor do satellites being launched by Europe, China and Russia, causing worries that if the current system is maintained, navigation errors may occur. If leap seconds are abolished, astronomers may suffer as their computers rely on the turning of the stars to make calculations. In some 2,000 plus years, atomic clocks would say it is day when it is the middle of the night.

Photo credit: shutterstock.com

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