U.S. messing with time

So says a leaked proposal made to the United Nations, reported in the Wall Street Journal. As you know, every so often an extra second, called a leap second, has to be added to the clocks so that time tracks the movement of the sun. Apparently the U.S. doesn’t like it because the extra time disturbs existing computer programs and navigation systems (e.g., global positioning systems). Better to have a standardized 24 hour clock and don’t worry about the drift.

Admittedly the drift is minimal. But it is upsetting to scientists,

including the Earth Rotation Service’s leap-second chief, Daniel Gambis, of the Paris Observatory. “As an astronomer, I think time should follow the Earth,” Dr. Gambis said in an interview. He calls the American effort a “coup de force,” or power play, and an “intrusion on the scientific dialogue.”…

[The U.S. proposal] has set off a wave of passionate opposition from astronomers, who argue that removing the link between time and the sun would require making changes to telescopes, changes that would cost between $10,000 and $500,000 per facility. That’s because a fancy telescope uses the exact time and the Earth’s position for aiming purposes when astronomers
tell it to point at a specific star.

[Note that there is a whiff of anti-Europeanism here because Gambis is from France and because Britain is considered to be the centre of time.]

Of course, the problem could actually be “lazy programmers”:

Deep down, though, the opposition is more about philosophy than cost. Should the convenience of lazy computer programmers triumph over the rising of the sun? To the government, which worries about safety more than astronomy, the answer is yes. In Mr. Allen’s view, absolutely not. [Steve Allen, an astronomer from University of California, runs a website about leap seconds.] “Time has basically always really meant what you measure when you put a stick in the ground and look at its shadow,” he said.


One Response to “U.S. messing with time”

  1. liam says:

    It sounds like lazy programmers to begin with, it would seem any system which relies so heavily on having accurate timing should allow for things to be adjusted.

    That being said, sounds like there’s work to be done, jobs like this will probably pay the bills, between that and the extra hour of daylight (haha) we are having legislated our way, looks like there’s thousands of hours of tedious repetitive time related tweaking ahead.