The Two-Way
1:15 pm
Thu January 19, 2012

Wait A Minute ... Or Three Years: Leap Second's Fate Put Off

The timekeepers at the International Telecommunication Union's Radiocommunication Assembly, who were supposed to decide this week whether to keep or eliminate the leap second, have decided to take some more time to decide.

Three years, apparently, the BBC reports.

The experts, it says, "were unable to reach a consensus, so moved the matter to a meeting in 2015."

As Eyder wrote Tuesday:

"A leap second is a lot like a leap year, reports the Financial Times, except that it's unpredictable. Since it was introduced in 1972, the ITU has added 24 leap seconds to recalibrate the world's atomic clocks to keep time with Earth's imprecise orbit."

Or, as the BBC puts it, leap seconds are added "to keep our modern timekeepers — atomic clocks, which rely on the vibrations in atoms to provide a very accurate measurement of time, [in sync] with our slightly less reliable timekeeper, the Earth."

The next leap second is scheduled for June 30.

The argument against the leap second is that it makes life just a tiny bit more difficult for businesses and communications networks (such as GPS systems) if they have to recalibrate every year or two. The argument for the leap second is that the problems such companies have might only get worse over time (yes, we said it) if the Earth and our clocks grow increasingly apart.

But today, it seems, the judges decided they needed more time to decide. So, we wait.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.