London: A decision on
whether to abolish the leap second, the occasional extra second
added to the world's time, has been deferred to 2015, BBC
Experts at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) were
unable to reach a consensus, so they moved the matter to a meeting
The US argued at the meeting that leap seconds were causing
problems for communication and navigation systems.
But Britain said that the long-term consequences of losing it were
An ITU spokesman said Japan, Italy, Mexico and France all
supported the US' stance on losing the leap second, while Germany
and Canada, like Britain, wanted the extra second to stay, the
broadcaster said Thursday.
More countries though, including Nigeria, Russia and Turkey,
wanted further study.
As a result, the ITU decided that more research was needed to
consider the broader social implications of losing the leap second
before a decision could be taken.
The ITU suggested that a study group should investigate the issue,
before presenting any proposals at the next World Radio Conference
It means that for now, the world's time will continue to be linked
to the Earth's rotation.
The next leap second is due to be added June 30, 2012.
The leap second was introduced in 1972.
It was added to keep our modern timekeepers - atomic clocks, which
rely on the vibrations in atoms to provide a very accurate
measurement of time - in line with our slightly less reliable
timekeeper, the Earth.
Because our planet wobbles a little on its axis as it spins, it
means some days end up being a few milliseconds longer or shorter
This means that over time, the time based on atomic clocks, and
the time based on the Earth's rotation drift further and further
When this difference is deemed by the International Earth Rotation
Service, which monitors the Earth's activity, to be approximately
0.9 seconds, a leap second is added to pull the two back into
Sometimes a leap second can be added every year, sometimes not for
several, with six-months' notice provided before action needs to
Those who wanted to lose the leap second said that the one-second
increments were becoming increasingly problematic for a vast range
of modern navigational and communication systems, such as sat-nav,
financial services, air traffic control and the internet.
These all rely on having a continuous and stable timescale, so
adding a somewhat unpredictable, one-second increment can be
Britain, though, says any problems are exaggerated - and that
losing the leap second could cause long-term problems, as the time
based on the atomic clocks and the time based on the Earth's
rotation would move ever further apart, according to the BBC.
Over decades, this would amount to a minute's difference, but over
500 years this could be an hour, and over thousands of years, the
Sun could be setting when atomic clocks claim it is morning.