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HOME > PAST ISSUE > July-August 2011 > Article Detail

FEATURE ARTICLE

The Future of Time: UTC and the Leap Second

Earth’s clocks have always provided Sun time. But will that continue?

David Finkleman, Steve Allen, John Seago, Rob Seaman, Ken Seidelmann

2011-07FinklemanF1.jpgClick to Enlarge ImageBefore atomic timekeeping, clocks were set to the skies. But starting in 1972, radio signals began broadcasting atomic seconds and leap seconds have occasionally been added to that stream of atomic seconds to keep the signals synchronized with the actual rotation of Earth. Such adjustments were considered necessary because Earth’s rotation is less regular than atomic timekeeping. In January 2012, a United Nations-affiliated organization could permanently break this link by redefining Coordinated Universal Time. To understand the importance of this potential change, it’s important to understand the history of human timekeeping.


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