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2016 will include extra second to compensate for Earth's rotation

It's down to the Moon pulling the tides

Jon Sharman
Thursday 29 December 2016 12:14 GMT
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2016 will drag on for an extra second
2016 will drag on for an extra second (Getty)

For the many who feel 2016 cannot end soon enough - bad news.

The year will be one second longer than planned because of the addition of a leap second, designed to compensate for the slowing of the Earth's rotation.

It is all to do with keeping scientists' hyper-accurate atomic clocks in sync with the planet and was decided by the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service (IERS), the scientific body responsible for maintaining time standards across the globe.

The Earth’s slowing is a result of friction caused by the tides and the planet’s changing interaction with the moon, which is spinning away from the earth at a rate of 3.78cm a year.

Geoff Chester of the US Naval Observatory, part of the IERS, said the leap second system was initiated in 1972, when the world’s timekeepers decided to maintain two timescales, and explained why tides affect time.

He told The Independent earlier this year: “The Moon raises tides on the Earth, and tidal bulges occur in the oceans. But because the Earth spins faster than the Moon goes round the Earth, it pulls the tidal bulge away from the point that’s directly under the Moon.

“The moon doesn’t like that, and says, ‘Hey, that’s my tidal bulge’ and pulls back on it. The net effect of this is that it acts as a very slow braking mechanism.”

Other factors such as warmer, denser winters caused by the El Nino climate cycle can also affect the time it takes for the Earth to go full circle.

In 2012, Quantas airlines flights were delayed after the computerised airline reservation system was disrupted by the extra second added between Saturday 30 June and Sunday 1 July.

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