- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 25, 2005

REUTERS NEWS AGENCY

Get ready for a minute with 61 seconds. Scientists are delaying the start of 2006 by the first “leap second” in seven years, a timing tweak meant to make up for changes in the Earth’s rotation.

The adjustment will be carried out by sticking an extra second into atomic clocks worldwide at the stroke of midnight Coordinated Universal Time, the widely adopted international standard, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) said last week.

“Enjoy New Year’s Eve a second longer,” the institute said in an explanatory notice. “You can toot your horn an extra second this year.”

Coordinated Universal Time coincides with standard winter time in London. Atomic clocks at that moment will read 23:59:60 before rolling over to all zeros. On the U.S. East Coast, the extra second occurs just before 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.

A leap second is added to keep uniform timekeeping within 0.9 second of the Earth’s rotational time, which can speed up or slow down because of many factors, including ocean tides. The first leap second was added on June 30, 1972, according to NIST, an arm of the Commerce Department.

Deciding when to introduce a leap second is the responsibility of the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, a standards-setting body. Under an international pact, the preference for leap seconds is Dec. 31 or June 30.

Precise time measurements are needed for high-speed communications systems, among other modern technologies.

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