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Question Your World: Why Did We Add An Extra Second This Year?


College students, high level business execs, parents, and just about anyone that does anything are always wishing they had more time. Lucky for us, our wishes have been granted in 2015. This year will officially be one second longer. Why did we add an extra second this year? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.

Our beautiful home, the Earth, is always moving around the sun. Our 24 hour day was set to catalog the amount of time it takes the Earth to spin on its axis once, with most places getting to see both the day and the night. When we break that down more we get into hours, minutes, and seconds. We use 24 hours, 1440 minutes, or 86,400 seconds to turn once on our axis. This year however we'll experience 86,401 seconds thanks to the Earth's slowing orbit.

Though we use a 24 hour day, our planet does not actually hit an exact and constant amount of time every single day. The Earth wobbles its way through the orbit around the sun and some days are a little longer than others. On many occasions the Earth's orbit will last a fraction of a second longer here or there. To account for this extra time, every now and then a second is added into the year. The first time such a thing was done was in 1972 and since then 25 other Leap Seconds have happened. There have been more than 25 years since 1972 so the big questions that naturally arises is: Why don't they do this every year? Well, that's where the fun stuff and controversy comes in.

As the Earth moves around the sun, the natural and irregular orbit will last longer here or there. So we add a second into a year, but only when its needed. Since this occurrence has only happened 25 times in the last forty three years many people feel like this is an unnecessary step and only causes confusion to many industries that dictate their work based around the accuracy of time. So, who decides on this stuff anyway? Later this year the International Telecommunications Union will meet and decide if the Leap Second work needs to continue or if its just an extra step that takes up more time than is worth. Stay tuned as news from the ITU starts to make its way to the rest of the world. There's a possibility that the leap second may not last too long.