Leap Second Threatens our Internet

photo courtesy of http://wallpaper-kid.com/

photo courtesy of http://wallpaper-kid.com/

The Paris Observatory announced we will add a second to our clocks this summer, called a leap second, according to telegraph.co.uk.

The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service declared we are one second ahead of where we should be, meaning the Earth’s rotation has slowed, reported money.cnn.com.

The last leap second occurred in 2012 and it took down Yelp, LinkedIn, FourSquare, Gawker, and StumbleUpon, among other sites and apps. The airport Qantas’ entire computer system went down for hours, causing employees to check in passengers by hand and delaying more than 400 flights, according to money.cnn.com and theguardian.com.

“The time ‘backbone’ of the Internet is called Network Time Protocol, or NTP.  Servers on the Internet use NTP to synchronize operations over domains.  In order to ensure that servers in different domains can ‘talk’ to each other, NTP precision across the entire Web needs to be synchronized to roughly one ten-thousandth of a second,” stated Geoff Chester Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Naval Observatory in his interview with the Matador Messenger.

“Unfortunately, some computer operating systems have been “hard-wired” to assume that every day is 86,400 seconds long; adding a leap second on one particular day means that that particular day is 86,401 seconds long, and some systems, when they see the extra second, try to reset themselves by counting one second backwards in time,” added Chester.

” This, however, is logically impossible, so the domain controlled by that particular server will shut down.  This generally doesn’t affect the entire Internet, but past experience shows that about 5 to 10 percent of servers may suffer a glitch and deny or drastically slow down service if the leap second isn’t properly accounted for,” explained Chester.

The U.S. Naval Observatory found out about the leap second by using radio telescopes to look at very distant objects called Quasars.

“These objects are so far away from us that they form a fixed reference frame which can then be used to measure extremely small changes in the Earth’s rotation speed.  We have known for over a century that the Moon’s gravity causes a small but measurable slowing of the Earth’s rotation,” stated Geoff Chester. “Over a century that the Moon’s gravity causes a small but measurable slowing of the Earth’s rotation.

“The rate at which the Earth is currently slowing down amounts to about one- to two-thousandths of a second per day per century.  This means that if we measure the planet’s rotation against the background of quasars it now takes the earth about 1/1000 seconds longer to complete one rotation than it did a hundred years ago,” added Chester.

” Many are comparing this leap second to Y2K. On new years day 2000 many people were afraid of when the machines coding system rolled over from ’99’ to ’00’ because the system only had a two digit year (ex. 15) instead of a four digit year (ex. 2015), according to Geoff Chester.

The U.S. Naval Observatory does not know how long the internet could be down. It is too unpredictable and  it could be a few minutes or a few hours.