Wednesday, December 31, 2008

leaping seconds


Slight slowing of the world’s rotation
requires, top chronologists have reckoned,
slight horological inflation
of New Year, to which they will add a second.

If you could add a second to
your life, would you attempt to leap and stretch it,
and could inflation give to you
a second chance of being far less wretched?

No. New Year offers when it leaps
an opportunity for adding time
to clocks, but not to life which keeps
you on the spot, and only leaps with rhyme.

Rhyme and the imagination
creating it are all that when the year
is new can leap with elevation,
and from a second be a profiteer.

The way clocks by horologists
may be controlled won’t help our lives;
we must be mere apologists
to time, to husbands and our wives.

The BBC reports at the countdown to midnight by Big Ben will last an extra second tonight, New Year’s eve.
Revellers will have an extra second to enjoy the New Year celebrations. Drunken partygoers may not notice but, thanks to the Earth's erratic rotation, the countdown to 2009 will last a moment longer. British physicists and official timekeepers around the world will insert a "leap second" to bring the most accurate atomic clocks in line with the astronomical day. London's Big Ben, whose bongs bring in the new year across the UK, will be adjusted while the BBC adds an extra "pip" to mark the delayed start to the year. Peter Whibberley, a senior research scientist at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington which is helping to coordinate the update, said: "The difference between atomic time and Earth time has now built up to the point where it needs to be corrected, so this New Year's Eve we will experience a rare 61-second minute at the very end of 2008 and revellers all over the UK will have an extra second to celebrate." Around 25 radio time signals around the world will need to implement the leap second, plus navigation systems such as GPS and its Russian equivalent, Glonass. BBC Radio 4's hourly six pips will be extended to seven to denote the change. The problem occurs because rotation of the Earth is gradually slowing down. Mr Whibberley added: "The Earth's rotation varies unpredictably due to factors such as changes in the atmosphere and the molten core. Atomic clocks like those at NPL are now more than a million times more stable than the Earth's rotation. "As a result, the two methods of measuring time slowly drift apart and we occasionally have to add or subtract a leap second to the atomic clocks to make sure astronomical and atomic time remain synchronised."

© 2008 Gershon Hepner 12/31/08


  1. Marvellous, the New Year, Big Ben and Gershon's Version of Time. Don't you feel lucky, getting an added second to your life? Have a Happy New Year, Dr. Poetman, and let the words roll...

  2. it is pretty incredible to have an extra second. a second is such a short period of time, yet a second is all it takes to change someone's life completely.