Feeds

UN set to dump GMT for tech-friendly Atomic Time

Just a minute...

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

Greenwich could lose its place at the centre of global time if a move to "atomic time" is voted in by the International Telecommunication Union in Geneva in January 2012.

Time scientists are discussing the implications of the change today in pre-vote meeting organised by the Royal Society. British newspapers are mulling how British pride would be dented if the riverside patch of South London gets taken out of the centre of world time-keeping. The Sunday Times said that it would truly mark the end of our days as a "Victorian superpower".

Time has been measured by atomic clocks since 1972, but the hyper-accurate clocks do not measure time as experienced by humans on Earth because the planet's rotation is uneven. Currently, the atomic clocks are adjusted to fit into time as humans experience it, with leap seconds every few years pushing the atomic clocks into line with "human time".

The divergence between GMT and Atomic Time is tiny. At the moment, the leap seconds are applied in a stepped scheme.

The current system of leap seconds causes significant difficulties for computer systems that rely on processes being performed in exact sequence. See how Google grappled with the problem here. Mobile phone networks and GPS systems in particular suffer when leap seconds strike. Continuous atomic time would be much easier to manage.

The ITU document says:

The result of the process would be to stop applying leap seconds at an agreed point and permit the difference with UT1 to increase at a rate of approximately one second per year.  The projection by the BIPM for the (UT1 - UTC) difference to accumulate to one hour is approximately 550 years.

In the new system, it is possible there would be leap minutes once or twice a century.

Alternatively we could keep human and atomic clock times running concurrently: "Knowledge of the precise difference between UTC (human time) and UT1 (atomic time) would continue to be monitored so that any user desiring UT1 would have the information to correct his readings of UTC to UT1 should he choose to do so," reads the International Telecommunications Union's proposal. The ITU is the UN's specialised telecommunications agency. 

The implications of the alternatives are being discussed.

One positive outcome for Brits distressed by the loss of our Victorian superpower status is that the end of GMT as an international standard could accelerate the move to keep British Summer Time into the winter, letting us have lighter evenings.

The ITU posed these questions to member states:

  • Do you support maintaining the current arrangement of linking UT1 and UTC (to provide an approximate celestial time reference by the use of a stepped atomic time scale)?

  • Would you support the revision of Recommendation ITU-R TF.460-6 to provide a continuous time scale?

So far, the ITU has received replies from just 16 nations for the latest survey (out of a total of 192, 55 of which participate in the formation of UTC). But with 13 in favour of the change, and just three against, the bill looks likely to pass, so far.

Read the document here [.docx download] ®

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
The police are WRONG: Watching YouTube videos is NOT illegal
And our man Corfield is pretty bloody cross about it
China hopes home-grown OS will oust Microsoft
Doesn't much like Apple or Google, either
UK government accused of hiding TRUTH about Universal Credit fiasco
'Reset rating keeps secrets on one-dole-to-rule-them-all plan', say MPs
Fast And Furious 6 cammer thrown in slammer for nearly three years
Man jailed for dodgy cinema recording of Hollywood movie
Caught red-handed: UK cops, PCSOs, specials behaving badly… on social media
No Mr Fuzz, don't ask a crime victim to be your pal on Facebook
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Don't even THINK about copyright violation, says Indian state
Pre-emptive arrest for pirates in Karnataka
Yes, but what are your plans if a DRAGON attacks?
Local UK gov outs most ridiculous FoI requests...
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?