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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

What is a leap second and when do leap seconds happen?

What is a leap second?
It’s sort of like a very small leap year. Generally, the Earth’s rotation slows down over time, thus lengthening the day. In leap years, we add an extra day in February to sync the calendar year back up with the astronomical year. Similarly, an extra second is occasionally added to bring coordinated universal time in line with mean solar time. Leap seconds in Unix time are commonly implemented by repeating the last second of the day.

When do leap seconds happen?
By convention, leap seconds happen at the end of either June or December. However, unlike leap years, leap seconds do not happen at regular intervals, because the Earth’s rotation speed varies irregularly in response to climatic and geological events. For example, the 2011 earthquake in Japan shortened the day by 1.8 microseconds by speeding up the Earth’s rotation.