New Year’s Eve of 2016 will last one second longer than expected due to a difference between atomic and astronomical clocks, according to the British National Physical Laboratory (NPL).
The additional second will keep the timescale based on atomic clocks in Britain synchronized with time based on the Earth’s rotation. Leap seconds typically occur every two or three years, and the last one was inserted in June 2015.
On Dec. 31, 2016, the leap second will be added to clocks just before midnight at 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds.
“Atomic clocks are more than a million times better at keeping time than the rotation of the Earth, which fluctuates unpredictably,” Peter Whibberley, scientist who studies time at the NPL, wrote in a press statement. “Leap seconds are needed to prevent civil time drifting away from Earth time.”
Without leap seconds, time kept by atomic clocks would rapidly fall out of synchronization with astronomical time, and could cause serious problems for computers if not properly implemented.
“Although the drift is small – taking around a thousand years to accumulate a one-hour difference – if not corrected, it would eventually result in clocks showing midday before sunrise,” Whibberley wrote.
NPL is the U.K.’s official national time measurement agency and is relied on by numerous private entities for timekeeping.
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