Leap Second: Earth Spins faster than ever


June 29, 2022, was the shortest day in recorded history. Because the earth is spinning faster than ever before. If this continues scientists are considering removing a single second from atomic clocks. This would mean applying a negative leap second.

The baffling discovery that the Earth is spinning faster, and days are getting shorter is setting off alarm bells for researchers. And a study from the UK’s Physical Laboratory reveals that the Earth’s rotation rate is still speeding up. And a full 24-hour rotation takes 1.59 milliseconds less than it did 50 years ago.

It was reported on the website TimeandDate.com that astrophysicist Graham Jones said, “If Earth’s fast rotation continues, it could lead to the introduction of the first-ever negative leap second.”

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Negative Leap Second may have consequences 

“This would be required to keep civil time — which is based on the super-steady beat of atomic clocks — in step with solar time, which is based on the movement of the sun across the sky.”

“A negative leap second would mean that our clocks skip one second, which could potentially create problems for IT systems,” Jones added.

In a blog post, Meta engineers explain where the concept of a leap second came from. And say deleting a second could cause negative effects on technology. It would most probably become a “major source of pain” for hardware infrastructures.

“The impact of a negative leap second has never been tested on a large scale; it could have a devastating effect on the software relying on timers or schedulers,” authors and researchers Oleg Obleukhov and Ahmad Byagowi, claimed.

“In any case, every leap second is a major source of pain for people who manage hardware infrastructures,” they added.

The Chandler Wobble causes problems

TimeandDate reported that irregular rotations, which speed up time, are the result of something called the Chandler Wobble. This occurs when an irregular movement of Earth’s geographical poles vibrates across the globe.

“The normal amplitude of the Chandler wobble is about 3m to 4m at Earth’s surface,” Zotov told TimeandDate, “but from 2017 to 2020 it disappeared.”

Some experts theorize that the melting and refreezing of ice caps on the world’s tallest mountains may be a contributing factor.

“Earth has recorded its shortest day since scientists began using atomic clocks to measure its rotational speed. On June 29, 2022, Earth completed one spin in 1.59 milliseconds less than 24 hours. This is the latest in a series of speed records for Earth since 2020.”

And that there is probably a “70 percent chance” our planet has reached the minimum length of a day. And we may never have to use a negative leap second.

When a negative value is assigned during a leap second event. It could cause numerous outages. For example, in 2012, Reddit experienced a leap-second outage. The site was shut down for 30 to 40 minutes. The event occurred when the time change confused the high-resolution timer (hrtimer), which created hyperactivity on the servers. And ultimately locked up the machines’ CPUs.

What is a leap second?

In 1972, the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS) introduced the leap second concept.

It was the solution to periodically update Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) due to imprecise observed solar time (UT1) and the long-term slowdown in the Earth’s rotation. 

Since 1972 the leap second, UTC has been updated 27 times.

According to Metablog, they support an industry effort to stop future introductions of leap seconds. And they want to stay at a current level of 27. 

Introducing new leap seconds or a negative leap second may be risky. Meta researchers want to introduce new technologies to replace it.