What time is it? Well, it’s not just about looking at the clock anymore. The age of digital has brought a new set of complications to the issue of setting the clock. But as it turns out, time has always been subject to changes in social, political and economic interests. The latest case of this beingSamoawhere they completely erased December 30, 2011 in order to skip ahead a whole day. This shift moves them west of the International Dateline for economic reasons. Note that Samoa is different fromAmerican Samoawhich remains east of the imaginary line. But date and clock setting is pretty much an arbitrary thing as countries feel free to shift around to suit their needs. A few years agoVenezuelarandomly shifted back 30 minutes. Meanwhile, 2012 is a Leap Year in order to account for the extra six hours on a solar year. Leap years occur every four years except when the year is divisible by 100 – but when the year is divisible by 400 it’s a leap year.
But hold on to your party hats here. Now there is a debate about the Leap Second. The Leap Second is needed to adjust clocks because the earth’s rotation is not as precise as needed for setting the Atomic Clock and other digital age instruments. However, such adjusting can cause much chaos for clocks and can wreak havoc on GPS and aircraft instrumentation for example. As a result, an effort is underway to drop the Leap Second completely. Such a move would cause us to lose the link between our clocks and the earth’s rotation. This link allows us to assume that it’s noon when the sun is directly overhead. But not everyone likes the idea of such unhitching. By the year 2600, they argue, there could be a half-hour divergence between the earth’s rotation and the time on our clocks. At that point, we won’t be singing Auld Lang Syne at exactly the stroke of midnight.
- UN Vote Could Allow Mankind to Control the Sun: Richard Cohen (businessweek.com)