It’s official: Leap Two is shutting down (a decade from now)

The time has come — or will come in 2035 — to give up leap seconds.

So member states voted for the international treaty governing scientific and metrological standards, at a meeting in Versailles, France, on Friday. The near-unanimous vote on so-called Resolution D has received relief and delight from metrologists around the world, some of whom have urged a solution to the problem. leaps and bounds for decades.

“Unbelievable,” Patrizia Tavella, the time division director of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, known as BIPM from its French name and based outside of Paris, wrote in an instant WhatsApp message. after the vote. “Over 20 years of discussion and now a great deal.” She added that she was “moved to tears”.

The United States is a strong supporter of the resolution. “It feels like a historic day,” said Elizabeth Donley, head of time and frequency at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST, in Boulder, Colo. “And I wish I was there. There are probably a lot of celebrations done in style.

The leap second has caused trouble since its inception 50 years ago. It was devised as a way to align the international atomic time scale, which has been in use since 1967 and is derived from the vibrations of cesium atoms, with the Earth rotating slightly slower. In fact, whenever atomic time is one second ahead, it stops for a second for Earth to catch up. Ten leap seconds were added to the atomic time scale when the fondant was announced in 1972. Twenty-seven more seconds have been added since then.

Those extra seconds are hard to insert in 1972; Today, technical problems are creepy. First, it’s hard to predict exactly when the next leap second will be needed, so computer networks can’t prepare for regular, orderly inserts. Different networks have developed their own, uncoordinated methods for combining extra seconds.

Furthermore, modern global computer systems have become more tightly coupled and more dependent on super-precise timing, sometimes down to a billionth of a second. An extra second increases the risk that systems responsible for telecommunications networks, energy transmissions, financial transactions and other critical businesses will crash or fail to synchronize.

As a result, unofficial time systems have gradually begun to replace the official universal world time, Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC. The removal of leap seconds was seen as a way to maintain UTC compliance by making it a continuous time scale instead of the current time scale. intermittently interrupted.

“The most important issue is maintaining the concept that time is an international quantity,” said Judah Levine, a physicist at NIST. He called the Versailles decision “an incredible step forward.”

Russia voted against the resolution; Belarus abstained. Russia has long sought to delay the abandonment of leap seconds because its global navigation satellite system GLONASS incorporates extra seconds, unlike other systems such as GPS operated by the United States. Given Russia’s concerns, leap seconds are not expected to be eliminated until 2035, although it could happen sooner.

Resolution D calls for UTC to be uninterrupted by leap seconds from 2035 until at least 2135 and for metrologists to finally find a way to reconcile atomic and astronomical time scales with little pain. more head. The international standard of time will be cut off from time to time as has been said by heaven for generations to come.

But resuming those two time scales is a must, said Pastor Pavel Gabor, an astrophysicist and deputy director of the Vatican Observatory Research Group in Tucson, Ariz. ordinary people, and that scientists have a responsibility to help people feel in control of their lives.

“I think that sensitivity to elite distrust, expert distrust, scientific and institutional distrust, that’s a very real problem in today’s world,” he said. he said. “And let’s not contribute to it.”

The steps remain in removing leap seconds. Although BIPM is responsible for international time, the International Telecommunication Union, or ITU, is responsible for transmitting it. The ITU World Radiocommunication Conference in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, will also vote on the issue next year. Felicitas Arias, former director of the timing department at BIPM and now an astronomer at the Paris Observatory, said that negotiations between the two organizations convinced her that the ITU would support the Versailles vote.

“We now see the real time closer to continuity,” she said, welcoming Friday’s vote. “And this is something we’ve been dreaming of for a long, long time.”


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