Issue 16 - Dec 2005
Astronomers and the world's telecommunications industry are at loggerheads over plans to ad a 'leap second' to the end of this year.
The ITU ( International Telecommunications Union) , who are in charge of coordinating world-wide computer networks, are concerned that the extra second could confuse computers and may even lead to complete communications chaos.
Astronomers on the other hand, stress that without the extra 'leap second' it will impossible to maintain the complete accuracy of their observation and navigation equipment.
In order to keep ' atomic time' in perfect harmony with 'mean solar time', atomic time is adjusted by one second approximately once every eighteen months or so. The hybrid time arising from this is called Coordinated Universal Time and is the basis for all modern-day time keeping.
This is not the first time time keepers have faced a such a dilemma. 420 years ago inaccuracies in the Julian calendar, (The yearly calendar introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC) caused dates to slowly shift away from the astronomical events with which they were traditionally meant to coincide.
As a result of this, the Gregorian calendar was introduced in 1582. To make up the difference left by The Julius miscalculations, ten full days from that year had to be dropped. The mind boggles at what that would have meant if computers were around at the time!
The Article 'Just a second' by Marianne Freiberger on the
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