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Hogarth judge

November 2017

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Hogarth judge

The intolerable hubris of the leap second

You may or may not have been following this, but 2006 is due to arrive late. The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service has determined that an intercalary leap second will be added to the end of 2005, making its final minute of UTC ( 61 seconds long. Within the United States, this particular calamity will fall at the end of 7 PM EST / 6 PM CST / 5 PM MST / 4 PM PST, in case you are keeping track.

It seems that the second is no longer defined by the earth's rotation; rather, we use atomic clocks to correct the Earth. This is ass-backwards. A second is a fraction (1/86400) of a day, and a day is as long as it is: it is defined by one full average rotation of the Earth with respect to the Sun. If the earth is slowing down, the second should be growing longer with it.

Not so, according to the powers that be. A "second" (scare quotes distinguish it from a true second) now bears the official definition of "the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium-133 atom." So, to know what time it is, you have to be looking at a cesium atom, and to be able to count to more than nine million very quickly.

It is not surprising that the United States has proposed to unlink time and astronomy, and allowing cesium atom time to wander its merry way unhindered by the planet. It seems to me that this is already a fait accompli. Instead of getting in tune with the universe, we seek to force the universe to get in tune with our cesium atoms. This is what happens when people start using arbitrary units of measurement which are not organically grounded in tradition and tied to the concerns of daily life in which they operate.

I say it's metric, and I say it stinks.

Comments

The Gold Standard of Timekeeping.

Isn't all of our launching-shit-into-orbit and dragging-things-around-the-planet tinkering with the earth's rotation to some itsy-bitsy one-second-per-ten-years(1:315,360,000) degree?

Either way, thanks for a great blog, and happy new year!

Re: The Gold Standard of Timekeeping.

It strikes me that if there is concern about the earth's rotation becoming slower, we need to make it lighter by throwing stuff off of it.

I would expect nothing more from a country that elected Shrub twice. Now I'm wondering whether the balldrop will occur on the real time or the artificial time.

New Year blessings to you, and to all a good night.