Have you ever thought about the difference a second makes? We've all told someone to 'wait a second' or declared that certain tasks will take 'just a second' but have you ever really thought about the significance of a second in your day, or even your life? Sure, it takes a many seconds to make up more important units of time such as minutes, hours, days, and weeks, but the second itself is still pretty important, especially if that second is a leap second.
In the year 2015, a leap second will be present, that being an extra second. Over time the Earth's rotation on its axis has been gradually slowing. Because of this slow down, time is lost to the tune of two thousandths of a second each day. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is causing us to fall behind International Atomic Time, or TAI. This is a problem because TAI correlates with Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC, which regulates time for different localities around the globe. Essentially each tick of the clock is thanks to International Atomic Time, which is incredibly accurate and said to lose only one second in about 20 million years as it ticks away at a consistent speed. Coordinated Universal Time, on the other hand, is determined by the spin of the earth on its axis, a spin that is gradually slowing. Because of this, a discrepancy of sorts occurs between International Atomic Time and Coordinated Universal Time, creating a need to get both clocks back to the same time, hence adding a leap second.
The reason it is so important to synchronize these two measurements of time is because of all the worldwide technology dependent on time. In truth, a lot can happen in a second but moreover a lot can go wrong in a second. An agency that depends on correct, unified time is air traffic control. Any discrepancy in time where airplanes are concerned can have disastrous, deadly consequences, thus an example of the need to correct the difference between TAI and UTC times.
At 11:59 p.m. on June 30th of 2015, instead of rolling over from 59 seconds straight into the next minute, a leap second will occur. For this one second, clocks will count to a full 60 before rolling over to the next minute. This is all it will take to get the Earth's rotation back on the same page with atomic time. No big deal, right? Well, about that...
The last time a leap second was added in 2012, there was a series of problems. Predominantly the internet was affected, with pages such as LinkedIn, Yelp, and Reddit crashing. Also affected were Java powered programs and the Linux operating system. Essentially the problem is that computers are seeing the same second twice in a row and that is not something they are able to, well, compute. Specifically the problem lies in performing timed tasks; when the same time rolls over twice, what is a computer to do? Google has created something referred to as 'leap smear' which in the past has gradually added increments of time until everything was as it should be, thereby preventing the problems associated with tacking on a whole second at an one, unexpected time.
Photo: Earth Sky Org
Though there is some debated over the need for a leap second, for now it is a part of life with which we must cope. Since it could result in a loss of data as well as incoming and outgoing information, now is the time to plan for how it could affect you. This means taking the time to plan for backups that do not correspond with the time update and having a plan to keep your current data and operating system intact. Ultimately, this could serve as a very important trial run; since TEOTWAWKI could harm or erase important computer data, there is no time like the present to make plans to back those documents up regardless of the threat of a leap second collapse.
Ultimately the evolution of technology may eradicate the need to fret over the leap second and what it means for us. However, it is unclear whether or not that evolution has occurred as of now. With that in mind, let his serve as a test run for how you will preserve and protect the sensitive data that is an important part of your life.
Did you experience computer problems due to the leap second in 2012? Are you concerned about the coming leap second and what havoc it might wreak? Let us know in the comments.