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New Year on hold: leap second makes time stand still

Eager to see the back end of 2008? Be forewarned: the world's official timekeeper has decided to prolong the year -- by one full second, to be precise.

Which means a Champagne-soaked countdown to 2009 something like this: "...THREE, TWO, ONE-AND-A-HALF, ONE... Happy New Year!"

The extra second was mandated by the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service
"IERS" redirects here: for other uses, see IERS (disambiguation)

The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service is the body responsible for maintaining global time and reference frame standards, notably through its Earth
 (IERS IERS International Earth Rotation Service (now International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service)
IERS International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (formerly International Earth Rotation Service) 
) in Paris, and is not to be taken lightly.

Satellites that orbit at speeds calculated in kilometres (miles) per second, the Internet, global positioning systems -- all depend on knowing exactly what time it is.

IERS head Daniel Gambis announced the time-stretching measure in July in a letter addressed to "authorities responsible for the measurement and distribution of time".

That would be the white-robed guardians of the 200-odd ultra-accurate atomic clocks scattered in national time temples around the globe.

"The last adjustment dates to 2005, and the next could happen in 2012 or 2013," Gambis told AFP (1) (AppleTalk Filing Protocol) The file sharing protocol used in an AppleTalk network. In order for non-Apple networks to access data in an AppleShare server, their protocols must translate into the AFP language. See file sharing protocol. .

Leap days occur once every four years because it takes 365 days plus six hours for our planet to complete an orbit around the Sun.

But leap seconds are added strictly on a case-by-case basis, depending on need. This year's will be the 24th bonus second since the practice was initiated in 1972.

The sleight-of-clock is necessary to reconcile two different time scales.

One is established by the atomic time pieces, which are accurate to billionth of a second per day.

The other is based on Earth's imperfect rotation on its own axis.

The two get out of sync because the planet's spin is affected by a host of slightly fluctuating variables, including solar and lunar gravity, the movement of the tides, solar wind, space dust and magnetic storms.

Even global warming has gotten into the act because melting ice caps have an impact too.

And so, at exactly 23:59:59 Greenwich Mean Time Greenwich mean time or Greenwich meridian time (GMT), the former name for mean solar time at the original site of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England, which is located on the prime meridian.  (GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) See UTC.

GMT - Universal Time 1
) -- or Coordinated Universal Time See UTC.

(time, standard) Coordinated Universal Time - (UTC, World Time) The standard time common to every place in the world. UTC is derived from International Atomic Time (TAI) by the addition of a whole number of "leap seconds" to synchronise it with Universal Time 1
 (UTC), to the scientifically literate -- on December 31, the world's clocks will add a beat to their metronomic met·ro·nom·ic   also met·ro·nom·i·cal
1. Of or relating to a metronome.

2. Mechanically or unvaryingly regular in rhythm: a metronomic rendition of the piece.
 tick tick tock.
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Publication:AFP Global Edition
Date:Dec 29, 2008
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