x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Is now the right time?

A dispute between the US and Russia is standing in the way of finding a way forward on a matter of global importance.

There is no hiding the fact that the US and France, who are clearly in favour of intervention, are frustrated by the opposition coming from Russia and, somewhat surprisingly, Britain.

At face value, the issue at dispute might not seem to be of great importance to everyday people in the West but its significance comes from what it represents: effectively a new global order that can affect the stability of world financial markets.

We are, of course, referring to the leap second, rather than the Syrian civil war. Ever since Greek astronomer Ptolemy sought to organise the passage of time in 140AD, humanity has been trying to tally time with the planet's slowing, and occasionally earthquake-skewed, rotation.

Since the 1970s, the solution to ensure that the time shown on atomic clocks matched the timing of observable phenomena like sunrises was to add a leap second occasionally. Ten have been added since 1972.

But in this digital era, those changes often have to be added to computer systems manually, with resultant crashes, which is why the US is proposing abolishing the leap second and allowing time to drift slowly out of synch with what we actually experience on earth.

But the sun will still rise, so will anyone notice a second or two?