If your New Year’s Resolution this year is to spend more time with loved ones or simply to yourself, then you are in luck.
2015 is going to be exactly one second longer than 2014 in order to compensate for Earth’s slowing rotation.
However, it is feared that the “leap second” can cause a global Internet crash.
On June 30th at precisely 23:59:59, the world’s atomic clocks will pause for a single second in order to keep terrestrial clocks in step with astronomical time (Earth’s rotation has found to be gradually slowing by around two thousandths of a second every day).
Just like the Y2K threat of the new millennium in 2000, the added second will cause some chaos in computer land by threatening to throw all of the world’s computer system operating times and codes out of sync. The last time there was a leap second, a lot of the world’s biggest websites including Mozilla, LinkedIn, Reddit, Yelp, and Foursquare crashed as well as operating systems and applications using Java and Linux.
The last leap-second in 2012 caused Qantas Airways computers to crash just after midnight, with delays extending into the following day forcing flight attendants to check every one in by hand.
That morning the Spanish company Amadeus IT Group – a company which supplies computer systems to Qantas and other airlines – saw their entire system crash.
Imagine, every computer in the world suddenly becoming off by one second.
The ramifications of every operating system adding an extra second has already prompted software companies worldwide to prepare for the worst.
Companies like Google have been forced to create their own workaround system with the creation of a “leap smear”, where the site’s engineers will work to cut the extra second into milliseconds.
“This [means] that when it became time to add an extra second at midnight our clocks [have] already taken this into account, by skewing the time over the course of the day,” says Google’s Reliability Engineer Christopher Pascoe.
“Our systems are engineered for data integrity, and some will refuse to work if their time is sufficiently ‘wrong,’” he said.
The addition of leap seconds have always caused problems with Earth’s technological systems.
The first leap second added was back in 1972, making this year the 26th time that time has been added.
2014 saw the largest Internet attacks of all time from hackers or Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, prompting many companies to have much concern of the safety and stability of computers and the Internet in 2015, especially with the existing threat of the added time change.
And not every website or company has the resources available to implement something like Google’s “leap smear”.
Because leap seconds are not predictable, computer programmers can’t build them into their codes the way they can for leap years.
As many operating systems including gaming consoles are dependent on precise time, issues and complications are expected as many aren’t capable of handling that extra second.
You can think of 2015 as one big cosmic struggle between machines, (which consider a day to be 86,400 seconds long) humans, (who measure a day as one full rotation of the Earth) and atomic clocks (which define a second as 9,192,631,770 oscillations of a cesium-133 atom).
There has been much debate about whether leap seconds should be abolished or not because of the havoc it wreaks on our computer systems. The necessity to have atomic time in sync with astronomical time has been a heated discussion over the past 15 years with many scientists debating that even if the difference between the two grew by a second every year, in 100 years’ time the gap will only be less than two minutes.
Later this year, a final decision will be made on whether or not the leap second should be done away with. Until then, many are bracing themselves – and their computers – for when the clock strikes midnight on the eve of June 30th.