Elongated Tuesday

MAN On Ledge has always been a science dunderhead, so this may take some untangling, but here goes. Today is longer than usual. To notice this lengthening, you need an atomic clock. Staying up until midnight is also a requirement.

On the midnight hour, atomic clocks will read 23:59:60 before moving to 00:00:00, or so I am told.

The elongated day has been brought about by the introduction of a “leap second”. The Earth’s rotation is gradually slowing, and the additional second will allow our planet to catch up with atomic clocks. What you do with this extra second is up to you. I’ll probably spend it trying to get to sleep. What’s one 61-second minute added to all those regular-sized minutes? The minutes become hours and the hours become a red-eyed nuisance, but there you go.

This bonus second is being added to keep official time in sync with night and day. But as we know, nothing free is without a cost, and so is proves with this bulked-out minute. It is feared that the extra second could cause computer calamity on trading floors and the internet. When an extra second was added on a weekend three years ago ­– boy, what a weekend that was, all that extra time ­– LinkedIn crashed. Now I am on that social website and it still seems to be its old, unexcitable self, so I won’t be wasting my free second worrying about that happening again. If it did I probably wouldn’t even notice. Also affected last time round were passengers at airports in Australia, where more than 400 flights were grounded as the Quantas check-in system blew a fuse or something. I won’t be there at midnight-plus-a-bit tonight, so I won’t worry about that either.

The science bit goes something like this (deep breath taken): we need leap seconds because official atomic clocks are more precise than the spinning Earth, which fluctuates and is in the long term slowing down – a bit like the rest of us, really – due to what is known as “moon drag”. While moon drag sounds like something a hippie might once have said on a smoke hazy night while looking skywards, it actually refers to the gravity of the moon causing tidal bulges on the Earth’s surface. In one report this morning, Dr Marek Kukala, public astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, is quoted as saying: “The tidal bulges act like giant brake pads.” If it’s good enough for an astronomer it’s good enough for non-astronomical me, and if you want further details, grab a passing astronomer.

Leap seconds are said to cause international difficulties, with countries being divided over whether or not we should play with time in this manner. The US and France wish to abolish leap seconds, while Britain, Russian and China favour wish to keep inserting these extra slivers of times. I am confident that the discussions on that will last for longer than a second and will perhaps include Vladimir Putin taking off his shirt and telling everyone else in the room that Vladimir can control time. Well, the Russian President does seize any opportunity to look manly. Vladimir is a few years older than me and already I prefer to keep my shirt on most of the time nowadays.

As for men going about the place shirtless on a hot day, that topic is best kept for a regular length day. Do enjoy your extra second.

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