Time Is Running Out for the Leap Second
A major new leap second is being added to the world’s timekeeping system, and a computer won’t sync with it.
The International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) voted Wednesday to approve a new leap second on the world’s timekeeping system. It will be the first leap second to be added since 1995. If approved, it will be in place on October 9, 2020, five months ahead of the original schedule.
The deadline for the ITU’s approval of the leap second was a month ago, but a vote has been held repeatedly because of a lack of consensus within the organization.
The ITU describes the leap second as one of four new time standards that the organization is developing. They are the International Atomic Time (TAI), Coordinated Universal Time (TAI), a leap second called the “Zulu Time,” and a new leap second called the “Jupiter Time.” The leap minute will still be in effect, with the second representing half a minute.
“This is one of the most important developments in the world’s time and calendar for many years that has been delayed by the slow progress of this ITU [International Telecommunication Union] meeting,” said Thomas M. Davenport, senior vice president for the Americas at NTP, part of the U.S. government-owned NTP Group.
The ITU’s vote does not come out of the blue. It had previously set August 1 as the date. That date has been postponed and pushed back multiple times throughout the year.
“This decision to vote for a leap second is important for the world as it impacts timekeeping, but it’s even more important because this is the first step in a new ITU standard for leap seconds that will allow leap days in the future, as well as leap years, to be more universally recognized,” said Davenport.
A new leap second was needed because of the way the ITU chooses to express time. The International Astronomical Union decided on leap seconds beginning January 1, 2009, with the next leap second on every four years. ITU had set a date for the new leap second six years earlier. The ITU has said that the reason for this step was to increase computing power, but the decision is also seen as a reaction to concerns about the potential disruption in global timekeeping, especially