NTP Server News – Calls to Abolish the Leap Second

Be careful when counting down to the New Year this week as an extra second is to be added to the last minute of 2008. Leap Seconds are added to UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) the time used by most NTP Server systems and has been going on since its inception in 1972 with a total of 33 seconds having already been added to UTC since then.

However there are calls to make this leap second the last ever. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is proposing to abolish them in favour of adding a “leap hour” every 600 years.

They claim that the Leap Second creates confusion and can cause software crashes. They cite 1996 as an example, when computers at Associated Press Radio crashed causing them to broadcast the wrong programmes, and a 2003 bug caused some GPS units to show the time as 62:30.

However, there is stiff opposition to abolishing the Leap Second, among them astronomers, Robert Massey of the Royal Astronomical Society told the London Times: “It would be a change with profound cultural implications.  We’d be decoupling our clocks from what the Sun is telling us.”

The implications for astronomers would require expensive changes to the software of astronomical telescopes and it would become almost impossible for sailors to navigate by sextant. It would also mean the Britain would lose its role as the World’s timekeepers as the Greenwich Meridian (the position of the sun at midday) would gradually move south to France until the proposed leap hour would return it to its original position after 600 years.

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