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FAQeFAQs - What is a Leap Second?
What is a Leap Second?
The first leap second was introduced on June 30, 1972. The historical list of leap seconds can be found here. The (International Committee for Weights and Measures) defines one second as the rotation of the Earth as 1/86,400 of a mean solar day. Civil time is occasionally adjusted by one second increments to ensure that the difference between a uniform time scale defined by atomic clocks does not differ from the Earth's rotational time by more than 0.9 seconds. Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), an atomic time, is the basis for civil time. Historically, the second was defined in terms of the rotation of the Earth as 1/86,400 of a mean solar day. In 1956, the International Committee for Weights and Measures, under the authority given it by the Tenth General Conference on Weights and Measures in 1954, defined the second in terms of the period of revolution of the Earth around the Sun for a particular epoch, because by then it had become recognized that the Earth's rotation was not sufficiently uniform as a standard of time. The Earth's motion was described in Newcomb's Tables of the Sun, which provides a formula for the motion of the Sun at the epoch 1900 based on astronomical observations made during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The ephemeris second thus defined is the fraction 1/31,556,925.9747 of the tropical year for 1900 January 0 at12 hours ephemeris time. This definition was ratified by the Eleventh General Conference on Weights and Measures in 1960. Reference to the year 1900 does not mean that this is the epoch of a mean solar day of 86,400 seconds. Rather, it is the epoch of the tropical year of 31,556,925.9747 seconds of ephemeris time. Ephemeris Time (ET) was defined as the measure of time that brings the observed positions of the celestial bodies into accord with the Newtonian dynamical theory of motion. Following several years of work, two astronomers at the U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO) and two astronomers at the National Physical Laboratory (Teddington, England) determined the relationship between the frequency of the cesium atom (the standard of time) and the ephemeris second. They determined the orbital motion of the Moon about the Earth, from which the apparent motion of the Sun could be inferred, in terms of time as measured by an atomic clock. As a result, in 1967 the Thirteenth General Conference on Weights and Measures defined the second of atomic time in the International System of Units (SI) as the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom. The ground state is defined at zero magnetic field. The second thus defined is equivalent to the ephemeris second.
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