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  • Writer's pictureMeesha Bhasin

WHY 2021 WILL BE SHORTER

The earth rotates once every 86400 seconds. However, based on various recent studies, scientists estimate that the Earth will be rotating faster than it has in the previous 50 years, with a day being shorter than 24 hours by 0.05 seconds.

Even though the time difference is very minor and it may seem insignificant, it has become the cause for experts to argue whether a leap second must be deleted from time to compensate for the change in the time of rotation and regulate the same.

A leap second is a minute value of a second, which is added or subtracted from time, to adjust the universal time difference and make it more precise.

Studies and research suggest that global warming may account for the difference in the time taken for rotation by the Earth. Due to the melting of glaciers, which largely impacts the distribution of mass on Earth, the Earth may be spinning faster than usual.


The decision to add a 'negative' leap second- elimination of one second to adjust the solar time with the astronomical time is yet uncertain. Peter Whibberley of the National Physical Laboratory said, "It is quite possible that a negative leap second will be needed if the Earth's rotation rate increases further, but it's too early to say if this is likely to happen". Studies suggest that such a difference of 0.05 milliseconds, would result in a change of about 19 milliseconds by the end of 2021. According to atomic clocks (that keep precise records of the length of days), the shortest day on Earth was recorded on 19th July 2020. It stated that the day was 1.46 milliseconds shorter than usual.

Even though leap second may be useful to bring the solar time in sync with the astronomical time, it may have impacts on the working of satellites and telecommunication.

The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service are responsible for deciding upon the need to add or subtract a leap second. However, as of now the decision to subtract a leap second remains uncertain. Will a leap second be added? If yes, then how will its impact on telecommunications be controlled? Do we need to consider the larger forces at play?

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