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World's Timekeepers: Kill 'Leap Seconds'

Debate rages over fundamental shift
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Jan 19, 2012 6:17 AM CST

(Newser) – Countries across the globe are divided—and it's only a matter of time. Some, including Britain and China, want to retain a special "leap second" occasionally added to the calendar to keep atomic clocks in line with the Earth's rotation. The US, France, Germany, and others, however, want to ditch the second. The matter is up for debate in Geneva today, the BBC reports, and barring an agreement among 200 countries, it could go to a vote. But "this is not a technical issue, it is more a diplomatic one," says an official with the International Telecommunication Union.

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Leap seconds were put in place in 1972 to match highly accurate atomic clocks with changes in the Earth's rotation speed. These days, however, they're becoming a problem for high-tech systems—satellite navigation and financial applications, for example—that need a very regular timescale. But those who want to maintain the tradition warn that over hundreds and thousands of years, such a method would throw us out of synch with the planet. "Without leap seconds we will eventually lose the link between time and people's everyday experience of day and night," says one supporter. (Read more Britain stories.)

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