Article development led by
Finding a lasting solution to the leap seconds
problem has become increasingly urgent.
BY PouL-hennInG KamP
thanks to a secretive conspiracy working mostly
below the public radar, your time of death may be a
minute later than presently expected. But don’t expect
to live any longer, unless you happen to be responsible
for time synchronization in a large network of
computers, in which case this coup will lower your
stress level a bit every other year or so.
We’re talking about the abolishment of leap
seconds, a crude hack added 40 years ago to paper over
the fact that planets make lousy clocks compared with
quantum mechanical phenomena.
Timekeeping used to be astronomers’ work, and the
trouble it caused was very academic. To the rural
population, sunrise, midday, and sunset were plenty precise for all relevant
Timekeeping became a problem for
non-astronomers only when ships started to navigate where they could not see
land. Finding your latitude is easy: measure the height of the midday sun over
the horizon, look at the table in your almanac, done. Finding your longitude is
possible only if you know the time of day
precisely, and the sun will not tell you
that unless you know your longitude.
If you know your longitude, however,
the sun will tell you the time very precisely. Using that time, you can make
tables of other nonsolar astronomical
events—for example, the transits of the