I’d like to say the match was made to be: Tuesday is leap-second day and my second day as Northeastern University’s official science writer, a position in the Office of Marketing and Communications. The coincidence, I believe, is more than homonym serendipity. I have been in awe of this role—reporting on the groundbreaking research underway on this greenway-in-the-city—since I first came across the blog Angela Herring started in 2012. How fitting that I can—from the start—stretch my time here by adding a second (a 61st!) to the day, as measured by Coordinated Universal Time.
These are rare occurrences (not just a leap second but a university science-writing job). According to a release by Elizabeth Zubritsky of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, today’s leap second is “only the fourth to be added since 2000.” It was not always so: Leap seconds were much more plentiful from 1972, when they first clocked in, through 1999, averaging about one leap second per year.
Is it sheer audacity that led us to “add” time? After all, no one ever has enough. But no, “the leap second is a very fine correction introduced every now and then to get atomic clocks exactly in sync,” noted J. Murray Gibson, founding dean of the College of Science, in a 3Qs for news@Northeastern a few years back. Said clocks—and hence computers—need the boost to account for the gradual slowing of the Earth’s rotation. Of course “need” is a relative term: “It would take almost a million years for this error to show up,” continued Murray. “None of this will cause any observable effect over our lifetimes.”
For my part, I am happy for this addition to this (second) day. I will be spending my 61st second exploring the wealth of discoveries on campus. Please let me know, at firstname.lastname@example.org, what you will be doing with yours.