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U.N. to Consider Whether to Cut Earth Time Loose from Greenwich Mean Time

Image engraving by
J. Pass
Wellcome Library/Creative Commons

Slate reported this week on growing concerns in the scientific community about the continued necessity of the leap second. At issue is the fact that time tracked by atomic clocks diverges with time determined by the Earth’s rotation.  Every year, scientists insert a “leap second” into official time so that timepieces on Earth will match up with atomic time. When these leap seconds are inserted, the door is opened to all kinds of mishaps in areas like air traffic control, high-speed stock trades, weather forecasting, cellular networks, and in-car navigation.    

A U.N. special agency plans to take up the matter this year, and decide whether earth time should be cut loose from the revolutions and wobbles of the Earth itself. If no determination is made this year, the U.N. could potentially be inviting catastrophe.